Table of Contents

A Social Killing

Part Two

Chapter Seven

The first thing that hit him as he climbed into the kitchen was the smell. Not the stench of putrefaction and decay, but the unmistakable scent of death. He paused briefly - one foot stretched to the edge of the worktop, one still dangling outside the window sill – then made a snap decision and pulled in his free leg and dropped soundlessly to the floor. Nash had chosen to enter from the rear of the house, but the garden was overlooked by at least two other properties so it wouldn’t do to linger in the open for too long. He had spent some time watching the house and was satisfied nobody was at home. Until the moment he caught that scent as he climbed through the open window he had felt confident about a quick in-an-out job. Someone, or something, in the home was dead or dying. Not what he had been expecting. The house was as silent as a morgue. All Nash could hear was the distant buzz of a lawn mower a few gardens away and some barely-audible traffic. It felt eerie.

Nash briefly considered his options. It was meant to be a quick intrusion solely to assess the central heating system and plan the best method for tampering with it to cause a fatal build-up of carbon monoxide. While a second visit to set the plan in motion would add to the risk of being spotted, Nash felt it was justified to ensure the smooth delivery of his chosen kill method. The smell he had detected changed everything and he briefly considered a swift exit, and then just as quickly rejected the idea. He still needed to reconnoitre the heating system and he now needed to investigate the source of the smell. Might as well just get it done, he thought.

The silent house felt empty to his honed senses, yet still the smell lingered. It was faint in the kitchen so Nash padded silently into the hallway. He knew that McCalman had no pets so wasn’t sure what he might find. The thought flashed into his mind that a child’s broken body might be awaiting him in one of the other rooms, the unfortunate victim of McCalman’s perversions. Nash didn’t have him pegged as a killer though, only as an abuser. Although, thought Nash, being only an abuser is bad enough. And perhaps he had changed his profile. Perhaps being thwarted continuously by social services and the police had driven him to a more direct and violent approach to fulfil his desires. Nash hoped not. The living room door was open. Nash breathed silently through his nose as he edged forward for a better angle. The room was empty. The red light on the TV showed it had been switched off with the remote which lay where it had been tossed aside on the sofa. A half-drunk mug of tea sat on the coffee table amid a clutter of old newspapers and empty crisps wrappers. The furniture and mantelpiece showed a thin layer of dust and the carpet had visibly ingrained dirt. McCalman clearly didn’t like to do housework.

Nash was careful not to touch anything. He was wearing gloves, but even a streak in the accumulated dust could alert McCalman to the fact that somebody had been in his home. Forensic experts could discover significantly more from his presence if they had reason to believe there had been an intruder. That had to be avoided at all costs. Nash stepped back into the hall and moved towards the narrow staircase which began to the left of the front door. The door had a peep hole and he quickly leaned in for a look – nobody was outside on the path. He considered applying the deadlock to the door in case McCalman returned home while he was upstairs, but decided against it. All it would achieve would be to warn McCalman of an intruder in the home. It might even cause him to back away and call the police without entering. Better to tackle him unexpectedly if the need arose. Inside. In private.

Nash turned and began climbing the stairs. The smell became stronger as he approached the landing. It was darker on the landing than he would expect, where light should filter through from the bedroom windows even with the curtains closed. It was as if there was a shadow just outside his line of sight caused by an unexpected obstacle. Something large enough to block the narrow space between door, window and walls.

Nash suddenly understood. He jumped up the last few stairs and turned onto the landing. Even knowing what to expect couldn’t stop an involuntary gasp escaping his lips and his eyes opening wide in shock. McCalman had hung himself. The loft cover had been moved aside and a makeshift noose snaked from his neck up to a beam in the roof space. His grotesquely-swollen head and neck hung loosely to one side and his legs dangled in thin air. His half-open eyes, red with burst blood vessels, stared blankly at Nash. Beneath him lay an overturned stool. Nash imagined McCalman rocking the stool from under him to cause a sudden drop as it fell away.

“Why?” asked Nash in a barely audible whisper. McCalman had shown no signs of depression. He had an ordered routine to his life and had met a new partner who, regardless of the intervention of social services, still wanted to pursue a relationship with him. It might be reasonable for Nash to force suicide upon him and subsequently to present him as feeling harassed by services, but nobody in the Department had really believed him to be suicidal. Nash couldn’t remember an occasion when they had made such a poor choice for a hit – no reason to target a man intending to kill himself. If they had known they could have just let him do it and saved Nash a job.

Nash had seen enough and decided it was time to leave. It was important not to hurry though. Running from the house in a panic would only draw attention to himself. He took a last look at McCalman’s hanging body and nodded. “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” he said. “Enjoy your time in hell.”

He stepped lightly back down the stairs, ensuring he didn’t scuff against the stairwell. It was inevitable that he would have left some evidence of his visit – microfibers, hair, and dirt from his shoes – but nobody would look too closely if their suspicions weren’t raised. He really wanted to check the bedrooms to see if McCalman had left a note, but that would have involved brushing past the body or moving it aside, which would definitely leave some evidence behind. It was the one missing feature which puzzled him though – no suicide note in sight. McCalman wasn’t the type to kill himself without leaving a long-winded diatribe to point the blame for his actions at somebody else. So where was it? Nash moved back into the kitchen and sprung onto the edge of the stainless steel sink surround. It left a slight pressure print from his shoe which would quickly fade, but might be remain visible under ultraviolet. He stepped to the windowsill and eased outside, then balanced at an awkward angle to rub against the footprint with his glove; it was the best he could manage and he hoped would be enough to obscure any investigation of the area. In any case, his entire outfit, including the shoes, would be disposed of before the end of the day.

He closed the window to the last latch he could reach, then removed his gloves and shoved them in his pocket. Retrieving the electronic clipboard and cap where he’d left them near the gate and reversing his jacket to display an electricity company logo, he quickly looked like a generic meter reader. Adopting a measured pace and a can’t-really-be-bothered slouch he walked around onto the path at the front of the house. He paused and spent a moment consulting his clipboard before peering myopically across the street as if to read house numbers. “Aha,” he mouthed, pointing as if he’d just discovered a great treasure, and crossed the road towards the corner house. He started down the side path of the selected house and, as soon as the garage wall blocked him from view, he vaulted the low fence and followed the footpath away from the area. Nash doubted that any of McCalman’s neighbours had seen him, but it was better to present a believable persona than appear suspicious.

It took almost forty minutes to get back to the car, by which time he had reversed his jacket again and hidden the blocky clipboard and cap in a drawstring bag. Luckily, the CCTV coverage of the outlying estates was almost non-existent in comparison to the town centre so he felt confident nobody had recorded his presence in the area.

His car was again parked at the supermarket a few miles from McCalman’s house. He remotely opened the boot as he neared the car and threw in the bag, then headed back into the shop without breaking stride. If he were placed in the area by police investigations, and if they had reason to suspect foul play, then he would need an explanation for his presence. A quick shopping trip between social work home visits was better than nothing as an alibi.

Nash picked up a basket at the entrance and dropped in some toiletries, milk and bread. He lingered for a while below one of the store CCTV’s to ensure he was recorded before heading for the checkout. Less than five minutes had passed since entering the store.

He put the shopping bag on the back seat and retrieved his mobile from the dash before driving away. He was stopped at the first set of traffic lights a quarter of a mile up the road. He slotted his phone into the hands-free cradle and dialled the Department number. “Hello,” a nondescript voice answered.

“Hi mom, it’s me.”

A brief pause. “Go secure.”

The lights changed to green as Nash quickly typed in the passcode. He pulled away just as the dwindling patience of the driver behind had him reaching for his horn. Nash waved in the mirror in way of apology.

“What’s the problem?” asked Hollingberry. “I wasn’t expecting a call.”

“McCalman’s dead. Suicide.”

“What? We agreed your carbon monoxide plan,” she snapped. “Why the hell would you suicide him?”

“I didn’t do it. He hung himself.”

Hollingberry didn’t reply immediately although he could hear her breathing heavily. He imagined the cogs turning as she mulled the information in her mind. “Why now?” she asked, finally.

“One time is as good as another for killing yourself, I guess.”

“Yes. Yes, of course.” She sounded flustered. “Anything to tie you to it?” Nash shrugged. “I’ve been in the house, so that’s a big yes,” he said, “but there were no neighbours around and I was careful not to leave any evidence. McCalman killed himself, so no reason for the police to be suspicious. I think I’m in the clear.”

“Good. Yes, that’s good.”

“You ok, Hollingberry?” he asked.

“I’m fine. These things don’t happen very often, is all.”

Nash turned onto the A19 dual carriageway heading towards Stockton, checking his mirror frequently for any signs of being followed. He intended to double-back across the Tees Newport Bridge and cut through the town centre before heading to the office. A completely illogical route which would highlight any signs of pursuit. It was probably unnecessary, but it was better to be thorough.

“It’s never happened to me before, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’ve wasted a lot of time on the guy when I could have been killing somebody else. So what do we do now?”

“Now?” she said. “Now we do nothing. You go to work as usual. As if nothing untoward has happened. Then we wait and see what the police make of it all. If you’re right and they do peg it as a suicide, we simply move onto the next job and put it behind us.”

“Alright. Sounds like a plan to me.” He accelerated past a lorry and cut in front of it, then braked suddenly as he swerved into the exit lane. The lorry driver flashed his lights in anger. Nash didn’t mind. The lack of a response from the other cars on the flyover only reassured him that nobody was following. “Need anything else?” he asked Hollingberry.

“How long until he’s discovered?”

“Not sure. He’s been dead less than a day and he doesn’t get many visitors. His sister has a key and pops round occasionally.

And there’s the new girlfriend, but whether she will call the police if she can’t contact him is anyone’s guess. She hasn’t been to his house before, I know that much. So it might a few days, or it could be a week.”

“Ok,” she said, “it’s too soon to consider a tip off to the police. We’ll wait out the rest of this week and see if his sister finds him. You sure he died yesterday?”

“Positive. I saw him the day before yesterday and… I just know these things, Hollingberry.”

“Of course you do,” she agreed. “Ok. Go to work, Nash. I’ll be in touch.” Nash broke the connection. At least she didn’t comment about Jenny this time, he thought. That’s something at least. Nash had briefly considered buying a new mobile, just for talking to Jenny, but realised that the Department would find a way to track him if they really wanted to. He stuck to his view that they couldn’t tell him what to do in his personal life, so what difference did it make if they knew he had called her? But his stubbornness didn’t stop Hollingberry endlessly bringing up the subject.

“Assassins don’t have girlfriends,” was her latest catchphrase. It made him laugh. This assassin does, he thought. The social work car park was busy as he pulled in, so he surmised that the team were all in the office working through their mounds of paperwork. He found a space and switched off the engine, but stayed buckled in his seat. He spent a moment composing himself - switching roles mentally from assassin to social worker, from Secret Service Department to social work department. The transition always made him think of a conversation he’d had years before with a five-year-old child in a foster placement. Rather than discuss his living arrangements or the care he was receiving, the boy wanted to talk about superheroes. Specifically, how the hero and his alter-ego look exactly the same, except perhaps for a pair of glasses or something equally trivial, and yet nobody recognises him. Nash had tried to explain that people generally see exactly what they are presented with – that few people can really see beneath the veneered masks and emotional disguises we all wear – but he failed to express it for a five-year-olds level of understanding. Instead, they had mutually agreed that Clark Kent probably used a Jedi mind-trick to fool the people around him. It made sense to them both.

Nash stepped from the car - his social work mask now firmly set in place - and went into the building.


Chapter Eight

Nash sat in his car watching Billy Wake sitting on a bench outside the park smoking a cigarette. It was his third day of intermittent surveillance of him, which Nash tried to fit around his social work role, and Wake so far had started each day at the same bench.

Nash had followed him from the moment he’d left his house that morning. Wake’s first stop had been to the corner shop to buy cigarettes, followed by a quick visit to the bookmakers. Nash presumed he had made a bet but didn’t follow him into the shop to check. It was irrelevant either way. He had waited instead in his car at the kerbside of the parade of shops until Wake reappeared. As he expected, Wake had walked straight from the betting shop over to the bus stop. He immediately lit up. and smoked two cigarettes in rapid succession. He had caught the first bus to arrive.

Nash had given the bus a head start before following at a respectable distance. All of the buses went into the town centre eventually and Nash had felt confident about Wake’s destination from his previous observations. As he had driven in relaxed pursuit, Nash had considered the most appropriate way to kill Wake.

One option would be to use his smoking, he thought, but causing someone to die from fumes could be almost as difficult to pull off as the carbon monoxide plan. Wake’s drug use was another possibility and Nash knew from experience that causing an overdose carried less risk of failure than a fire. Then there was Wake’s car crime to consider – a fatal road traffic accident would be entirely believable for someone of his ilk, thought Nash. The choices were almost endless and Nash decided to wait until the end of his fortnight of surveillance before making a decision. Whatever method he chose he didn’t want Wake to suffer - if at all possible - as a concession for his young age. It seemed only fair despite the Department categorising him as a scumbag.

Wake had alighted the bus at the entrance to Albert Park, as he had the previous two days, and crossed the road to sit on the same bench. Nash pulled into an empty parking space on Linthorpe Road a few hundred metres back, but still in sight. Two days earlier, Wake had smoked a cigarette on the bench before walking into town for a random browse around the shops. The day before he had smoked a cigarette on the bench before heading into the park, making a number of mobile calls, and then catching a bus straight home. Nash had no idea what Wake would do today. The only routine he so far seemed to follow was that he stopped at the same bench each day for a cigarette. Everything else he did appeared random and unpredictable. Nash didn’t like targets without a regular routine - it made it difficult to plan their demise - and he couldn’t think of a way to use Wake’s daily bench stop to his advantage.

Wake finished his cigarette and used it to light another, an immediate change of routine from the previous observations. One was usually enough. He took two deep draws and exhaled, then stubbed the cigarette out with his heel and stood up abruptly. There was a small horseshoe-shaped parking area at the front of the Dorman Museum near the park entrance and Wake headed straight for it with a purpose. He confidently approached the driver’s door of an Audi A5 and pulled half a tennis ball from his jacket. Nash watched incredulously. Wake looks about to steal a car in broad daylight with dozens of witnesses, he thought. The arrogance of the boy is incredible.

Wake pressed the half-ball against the door lock and slammed it with his free palm. The button popped up with the inrush of air. He quickly opened the door and reached inside to release the bonnet as the security alarm went off. He moved swiftly around to the front of the car and lifted the bonnet. For a few moments he was obscured from Nash’s view as he bent forward into the engine compartment. The alarm abruptly stopped.

Nash noted the few passersby who had stopped to respond to the alarm happily continued on their way. They no doubt believed it had been set off by accident and had been reset by the owner. After all, who would steal a car in broad daylight next to a busy main road and a park entrance milling with pedestrians?

Wake casually closed the bonnet and climbed into the car. Nash wished he could see what he was doing. Those cars have electronic ignitions, he thought, so surely it can’t be hotwired. Not that Nash knew much about stealing cars – it was a skill he had never acquired. He just knew that modern cars had great security.

A minute passed, then another. Nash wondered how long Wake would risk being caught red-handed inside the car. The owner might return and could be a bodybuilder who’d happily rip his head off – Wake might be streetwise but he was a skinny weed physically – or the police might be alerted and Wake wouldn’t avoid jail this time following such a blatant crime with his extensive record. Then, after almost four minutes of seeming inactivity, the car’s reverse lights came on and Wake executed a quick manoeuvre to pull the Audi onto the main road. Impressive, thought Nash, as he pulled into traffic to follow him. He really is an accomplished car thief.

Wake clearly had a destination in mind because he headed down Linthorpe Road into slower traffic. If it were simply a joy-ride he would have taken a different route – one which headed out of town – and really opened up the car. At the junction with Borough Road he took a left and Nash reconsidered his assessment - the road circled round to the dual carriageway hub which led away from Middlesbrough centre, so perhaps he still intended to put on some speed – but at the roundabout Wake kept straight ahead. He patiently drove the car just below the speed limit, which to Nash felt like a snail’s pace. Nash smiled. The lad really has some balls, he thought, to take the road into St. Hilda’s. A quarter mile ahead sat the main police station for the area, an imposing block of brickwork and glass frontage with fifty cells in its custody suite, and Wake was heading straight for it. St. Hilda’s was notorious locally as the red light district for Teesside, though men travelled from across the whole of northern England to sample the wares on offer. Nash believed the prostitutes were the reason for the police station’s location. Many of the young women working the streets had drug addictions – it made them willing to work cheap so they could quickly score their next high - but it also made them vulnerable. The visibility of so many police officers afforded some protection for the girls, and also meant that officers didn’t have far to go if they wanted to make an arrest for kerb crawling. Wake cruised past the station without turning his head. At the next set of traffic lights he turned left. “No way,” said Nash aloud. “He’s surely not going for the bridge.” Nash was caught by the lights and had to wait two minutes before they changed again. He quickly turned the corner and scanned ahead for any sign of the Audi. Sure enough, he spotted Wake waiting in the queue at the Transporter Bridge. There were only three cars in line, along with a cyclist and a couple of pedestrians, with Wake at the front. Nash pulled up behind a battered Renault towing a trailer piled high with hedge cuttings. Obviously heading to the tip on the other side of the river, he thought.

Nash craned his head to check the progress of the bridge – the suspended roadway looked to be at the midway point on its journey back from Port Clarence. He glanced up in appreciation at the blue latticed framework of the bridge towering above him. Nash loved architecture, and the Transporter Bridge represented the pinnacle of engineering design from Middlesbrough’s industrial heyday. It remained the most visible landmark in the area, but wasn’t the most practical way to cross the river Tees. Built in a time of growth when ships laden with iron-ore plied the river daily, it had a raised cantilevered beam stretching across the river supported by two tall scaffold-like legs at each end. Cables hanging below the bridge suspended a ‘gondola’, a small section of roadway, which moved on tracks from one side of the river to the other and could carry two hundred people and half a dozen vehicles. The height of the beam had been designed to allow the safe passage of ships, though with the decline of industry there was no longer a need – river traffic was almost non-existent these days. The bridge remained instead as a symbol of the town’s industrial heritage. Nash thought it was magnificent.

The roadway arrived and the bridge crew opened the barrier to allow the cars from the other side to disembark, and then directed the waiting traffic to board. Nash was waved into the middle section and pulled up alongside Wake’s car. He stared straight ahead across the river and consciously didn’t even glance in Wake’s direction. A few minutes passed as the staff waited for any additional passengers and a conductor collected fares and issued tickets. Then the gates were secured and the bridge began to move.

The passage to Port Clarence only lasted a few minutes but some people, including Wake, got out of their cars. Wake went to the fenced barrier at the front of the bridge and stared straight ahead towards the far side. Nash wondered what was going through his mind at that moment. He surmised that Wake had stolen the car to order because he seemed to have a clear destination in mind. Why else would he drive past the police station and then use a slow-moving bridge in a stolen vehicle? It seemed too risky. Unless he really believes himself to be untouchable, thought Nash. Suddenly, his mobile rang and made him jump. He had meant to switch it off earlier, but knew that work might call and he would need to give an excuse for not being in the office. The picture on the screen displayed the smiling face of Jenny Hughes which he’d taken on their second date. He wound his window back up and pressed the answer button. “Hello.”

“Hi, honey. You busy?”

“Technically I’m at work, so I should say ‘yes’, but I’m never too busy to talk to you.”

She laughed. “Your patter isn’t improving, that’s for sure. Shall I ring back?”

“No, it’s fine. I’m not in the office. I’m on my way to a couple of home visits so I’ve got a few minutes. What’s up?”

“It’s my mum. Fiona went to visit again last weekend and she says mum isn’t doing too well. Not sure how serious it is, but I want to go and visit her this weekend to show some support.”

“So you’re cancelling our date on Friday?” he said. “No problem, Jenny. Family has to come first. I’m sure I can find something to fill my time.” Nash already knew that he could put the time to good use with some extended surveillance of Wake. As he spoke he glanced over at his slim figure, still standing at the front of the bridge looking over the water. His curly blond hair and baggy T-shirt waved in the breeze, lending him an air of innocent youth, and Nash felt a momentary pang of regret that he had to kill him. “We can arrange something when you get back.”

“You’re misunderstanding me, Dan,” she said. “I wanted to ask if you’ll come with me.”

“Oh, you want me to come and meet the folks? That’s serious.”

“I’m not expecting you to ask my dad for my hand in marriage, or anything like that. I’m just worried about my mum and I want to see her. I also want to see you and it’s the only way to do both.”

“Well, when you put it like that.”

“So what do you think?” she asked.

Nash thought it would be pleasant. He deserved a weekend away from work and he couldn’t think of anything better than to spend it with Jenny. Meeting the parents did suggest their relationship was moving forward at a rapid pace, but that didn’t really worry him. He liked that it was getting serious. He glanced again at Wake’s back and decided he could leave the surveillance until next week.

At that moment a red mist erupted from the back of Wake’s head, followed a second later by the crack of a rifle as the sound wave caught up with the bullet. Blood, brain and bone fragments sprayed across the Audi bonnet and windscreen as Wake’s head jerked backwards followed a moment later by his body slumping slowly to the ground. Nash stared in disbelief. The shot had come from the other side of the river – a sniper – and Wake had been the target. There were no further shots so Nash knew this was no random act of violence. If it were, Nash himself would also be dead in a pool of his own blood because his reactions had been so slow. He didn’t duck. He didn’t throw himself from the car onto the deck of the bridge. He simply sat and stared at the impossible scene before him. He would have been an easy target for an accomplished marksman. So would any of the other passengers milling about on deck.

“Does your lack of an answer mean you aren’t interested?” asked Hughes suddenly. Her voice sounded loud in the silence of the car and shocked him from his reverie.

“What? No, no. Listen, Jenny, there’s been an accident here. I’ll have to call you back.”

“Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” he said. “Just a little shocked. I’ll call you later.” He pressed the end call button and stepped out of the car. A few other passengers had seen Wake fall and came over to look at his body. Nobody got too close. He was clearly dead – a large section of the back of his head was missing – and the pool of blood around him grew larger as his body emptied its fluid onto the tarmac.

Nash looked across to the Port Clarence side of the river. He knew it to be a rough neighbourhood over there, almost as renowned locally as St.Hilda’s, but not home to snipers. Nowhere was. Nash couldn’t recall any similar incidents of murder in the whole country – ever! For one thing, a gun was still a difficult commodity to get hold of in the UK illegally. Nash figured it would be almost impossible to get a decent rifle with a usable scope, except perhaps by organised crime networks or paid assassins. And that made this very clearly a professional hit, surmised Nash. But who would pay to kill a virtual nobody like Wake? Except other drug dealers, perhaps, but they generally didn’t mind being up close and personal when they killed someone. Not this long arm approach.

Nobody was in sight on the far bank. Whoever the sniper was, he was long gone. Probably took the shot from a car or van before driving away as soon as he confirmed the kill. In Afghanistan, Nash would have triangulated the shooter’s position in a heartbeat. And have done it from a position of cover. Here he had seen nothing and remained exposed throughout. He would have liked to eyeball the sniper, or his vehicle, but it was too late now – ‘civvy-street’ had clearly taken his soldier’s edge. Or he was getting old.

The bridge suddenly stopped and swayed slightly on its suspended cables. A moment later it started moving again and headed back towards the Middlesbrough bank. The onboard staff must have seen the incident and called the police because the sound of approaching sirens quickly rose in volume. By the time the bridge connected with the shore there were three police cars and a van waiting, including an armed response unit.

The passengers and staff were herded to the control building entrance and told to wait for statements to be taken. Nash didn’t really want to be a witness to a serious crime, but there seemed no way to avoid it. At least the police couldn’t possibly know about his connection with Wake. It was more the time he was wasting that rankled; he knew it would take the police hours to deal with all of the passengers and allow them to leave. And with his car sitting in the middle of a major crime scene it was anyone’s guess how long it would take to release it - he would no doubt be getting a taxi home. Over the next ten minutes the number of emergency services personnel swelled dramatically. An ambulance arrived, followed in short order by a fire-engine, a scenes of crime officer, two more police cars, a despatch rider and a forensic van. Nash knew that a forward command post – a prefab office – would soon follow. It was inevitable for a murder of this magnitude. The road and bridge would be closed on both sides of the river and the police would spend days scouring every inch of the bridge and banks searching for the one piece of evidence they would never find – a spent shell casing. Only an idiot would have left it behind. It was another twenty minutes before a helicopter buzzed overhead and swept across the river towards Port Clarence. Nash looked up and shook his head. Too late by far, he thought, the guy is long gone.

Chapter Nine

Mist lay like a curtain across the Cleveland Hills and rain sleeted down outside the window, blackening the sky and obscuring the view. The weather matched his sour mood. A typical British summer’s day, thought Nash, as he sipped a mug of coffee. His eyes kept flicking to the phone sitting on the windowsill, willing it to ring. The call from Hollingberry was long overdue. He’d called the office the previous day and spoken to Davis again. Hollingberry seemed to be keeping odd hours lately, he’d thought. She never seems to be in the office. Nash had quickly outlined the events at the Transporter Bridge and Davis had made no comment, except to recommend Nash take the rest of the week off work. It wasn’t difficult to agree with the suggestion – Nash couldn’t imagine doing social work for the time being. Sitting in a client’s home talking about trivialities would be impossible in his current state of mind. Especially if they learned he had witnessed the murder/assassination of Wake which was now headline news across the country. For once, Davis had made perfect sense. Even his snooty manner hadn’t bothered Nash as they’d talked. It was clear that Davis had felt out of his depth, though he’d also implied the same would be true of Hollingberry. Since the Department’s inception there had never been a murder of a target by sniper. Occasionally a selected target had been killed – people chosen for assassination generally had some enemies, often family members of their child victims, or drug dealers, or other lowlife scum – but it had always happened out of sight of the Department. It had never happened with a Department assassin a few feet away witnessing it. Until now.

Davis had also pointed out the obvious concern: two of Nash’s targets had died in rapid succession without his involvement. McCalman had committed suicide, but there had been no warning signs in his demeanour beforehand, and then Wake had been blatantly murdered less than a week later. It seemed like too much of a coincidence and Nash was the common denominator between the two. Davis hadn’t wanted to speculate further. It sounded too much like a conspiracy theory, because the bottom line was that McCalman had committed suicide. If there did turn out to be a connection between the two men, it would also mean that somebody had suicided him against his will. Which meant somebody would have to know the Department’s methods as well as the choice of Nash’s targets. Which meant an inside job, or at least a level of co-operation and information sharing from somebody with access. And that was unthinkable.

Nash didn’t like the fact that Davis had made perfect sense. Davis was clearly smart and could rationalise and hypothesise facts. He drew logical conclusions from limited information with no apparent thinking time. He wasn’t the complete fop that Nash had thought.

Nash had already felt he was the victim of a conspiracy – a convoluted plan intended to ruin him – and Davis had only confirmed his worst fears with his speculation. Davis had ended the call with a promise to escalate the matter immediately and to get Hollingberry to call Nash the following day with instructions. In the meantime, Nash was told to remain at home and try to relax. Easier said than done. Nash had also made a difficult call to Hughes. She had shown real understanding, of course, because she had been a sniper herself in a previous incarnation. And she had seen death up close and personal. She knew the emotional impact which came from witnessing it.

But she was also disappointed that Nash wouldn’t be going away with her for the weekend. He needed to be alone, yet she still wanted them to be together. She’d argued that a change of scene might take his mind off things. Nash had refused to go. He felt he had to mull things over – there was more at stake here than the fact he was a witness to a murder – and Jenny didn’t know about his real job so didn’t really understand everything playing on his mind. Nash had promised he would make it up to her, but she had sounded a little distant when she ended the call. Nash finished his lukewarm drink and set the mug down on the windowsill. He glanced again at his phone and, as if on cue, it began to ring.

He snatched it up. “Hello.”

“Hi, Nash. It’s Ruth.” Oh God, he thought, the receptionist from work. “Hello,” he replied. “Listen, Ruth, did nobody tell you I’m not working today or tomorrow?”

“Yeah, sure they did. I saw the news last night – must have been shocking to see that poor lad get shot. Blood and guts everywhere …”

“Ruth,” he snapped, “was there a reason for ringing?”

“Yes.” She sounded hurt. “I’m sorry if I’m bothering you.”

“Its fine,” he said, “and I’m sorry for shouting at you. I’m on a short fuse at the moment. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

“It’s ok. I understand. I had a nightmare about blood and guts last night and I didn’t even see the poor lad get killed. Woke up in a sweat and scared the hubby half to death.”

“Ruth,” said Nash, trying to sound calm. She is so ditzy, he thought. “There were no guts, ok? Just blood. And, no, it wasn’t pleasant. But you called to tell me something – what was it?”

“I just thought you’d want to know an old friend popped in to see you this morning.”

“An old friend?” Nash was genuinely confused. None of his friends knew he was working in Middlesbrough - he only contacted personal acquaintances in the downtime between assignments.

“Yeah. He said you were old army buddies.”

“Did he give a name?”

“No. I thought that was a bit weird. I asked him a couple of times and he kept changing the subject, but he left you some photographs. Said they’d bring back memories and make you laugh.”

“Photographs of what?”

“I don’t know. They’re in a sealed envelope.”

Nash was confused. He had no idea who the army buddy was or how he’d known his whereabouts. But it could wait until Monday, he decided. He wasn’t about to make a special trip just to get some old photographs. They were likely just shots of him and his squad goofing around on a base somewhere during one of his tours. “Ok. Thanks, Ruth. I’ll get them when I come back to work.”

“No probs. See you later.”

Nash set the phone down and went back into the kitchen. Might as well have another cuppa, he thought. He popped a couple of slices of bread in the toaster while he waited for the kettle to boil. He was just taking his last bite when the phone rang again. “’Lo,” he mumbled around a mouthful of buttered toast.

“Go secure.”

He chewed quickly while typing in his passcode. The phone beeped as the secure line was enabled.

“Hi, Nash. It’s Hollingberry.”

“Hey. Got good news for me?”

“You’re on speaker phone – Morgan is here with me.”

“Morning, Nash,” said Morgan in his deep, basso voice.

“Sir.” It must be serious, he thought, if the boss is getting directly involved.

“This is a bad business,” boomed Morgan.

“Yes, sir, I agree.”

“We’ll just get straight to it,” said Hollingberry. “McCalman was murdered.”


“The autopsy report came in this morning. He has welts on each wrist and other bruising on his body from a struggle. It appears his hands were tied behind his back when he was hung. Whoever did it waited until he died and then removed his bonds to make it look like a suicide. Cleveland police now have two murders on their hands.”

“Fucking hell,” he blurted. Then, quickly, “sorry, sir.”

“No apologies needed, Nash. I feel the same way.”

Nash began to pace his living room, his mind working overtime. “Was McCalman drugged?”

“Yes,” said Hollingberry. He could hear her flicking through the paper report. “Tranquilizer. He has a needle mark on his thigh.”

“So this wasn’t an inside job?”

“Clearly not,” she agreed, “far too sloppy for the Department. But the killer must have some knowledge of our methods. He did try to present it as a suicide.”

“And more to the point,” said Morgan, “he knew your target.”

“So we have a mole in the Department? It’s the only place that information could have come from.”

“Sadly, yes,” he said, “although I can scarcely believe it. The Department has maintained total secrecy of its very existence for twenty years. That’s due in no small part to the integrity of its staff. I can’t believe one of our own would betray us. But facts are facts.”

Nash thought furiously. Who could it be? he wondered. Not Hollingberry or Morgan. Not even the irritating Davis seemed a likely candidate, and he was starting to warm to the man in any case. Nobody sprang to mind. “How many people have access to the Department database? Whoever did this must have read my debrief files.”

“Yes, we know. It was the first thing which occurred to us. There are two dozen or so personnel who have access. We’re checking the audit log now.”

“But computer systems can be hacked,” said Hollingberry. “You know that better than anyone. And electronic trails can be covered.”

“And,” growled Morgan, “the very person doing the checks could be the culprit. I don’t know who to trust and yet this has to stay within the Department.”

Nash sighed. He lifted the untouched mug of coffee and carried it over to the window. It was still bleak outside, the rain lashing down. “And in the meantime a killer is running around Middlesbrough with a vendetta against me.”

“We’ve considered that, Nash, but I for one am not convinced this is about you. I think this may be an attack against the entire Department,” said Morgan.

Nash disagreed. It felt personal. “My last two targets have been killed – what could be more personal than that?” Nash had never considered himself to have enemies, but he had certainly pissed off a lot of people over the years. And recent events felt like a grudge attack, intended to prey on his emotional and mental well being.

“I’m sure it feels that way,” said Hollingberry, “but stop a moment and think things through. If it were a personal vendetta then why not simply kill you and have it done? Why complete your hits in such a way that the police get involved?”

“Why do you think?” Nash wasn’t quite following her reasoning.

“To expose you.”

“For what purpose? And how can I be exposed? I’m not linked to either target as a social worker.”

“But you are linked to them,” she said. “You were in McCalman’s house and now that the police are treating it as murder they’ll go over it with a fine-tooth comb. They might find some evidence which ties you to him, or somebody might have seen you in the area. And you were on the bridge when Wake was killed. Standing just a few feet away from him. Travelling on a bridge to the Stockton side of the river where you had no business being – you’re supposed to be a Middlesbrough social worker, after all. The police aren’t stupid, Nash. They will eventually link you to both murders, however tenuously.”

“So it is personal then?”

“No, I don’t think so,” interjected Morgan, “if you are exposed then the Department is exposed. You’re just unlucky. This lunatic could have chosen any one of our agents to target. We think he is using you to bring the Department into the open and we can’t let that happen. Can you imagine the political shitstorm if the public knew about us? And apologies for my language there, Nash, but there is no other way to say it. Put simply, the British government has officially opposed the death penalty for forty years and has been legally barred by Europe from reinstating it for almost the last ten years. They even actively oppose the death penalty when British citizens are sentenced in other countries, regardless of the crime committed by them.” His voice dropped slightly. “But all the while, for the past twenty years, the government has maintained this Department to remove undesirables from our society. To do the things the public really wants to be done, but doesn’t want to know the details about, or even to admit we might exist. The public wants us to be a secret - it salves their conscience. This Department has, to date, killed almost six thousand citizens of the United Kingdom. Our own people. And society is better because of it. But the public would have to oppose us, you must realise that, because they wouldn’t be able to stomach the necessity of our existence. They’re too weak to stick to their convictions - so they cannot find out about us.”

“If you’re right, then this guy isn’t going to stop now. He might have attracted media attention by killing Wake, but the Department is still a secret. He needs to do a lot more to truly expose us.” He pursed his lips, considering the possibilities Morgan had presented and the general direction of the briefing. “So I’m guessing you want me to remain exposed so he can keep killing people. Maybe even kill me. It’s the only possible way to catch him.” Morgan coughed. “I wouldn’t leave you on assignment if I truly believed you to be a target, Nash. But you are right – we don’t think this man has completed his plan yet. There is more to come.”

“And in the meantime, people are being killed.”

“Yes,” agreed Hollingberry. “People we wanted dead anyway.”

Nash ran his free hand across his forehead and over his eyes. He was tired and frustrated. He felt exposed and vulnerable and there had been no mention of pulling him off the job. “I take it you do have a plan which involves me staying put in Middlesbrough.”

There was a pause and Morgan coughed again. “We’re going to assign you a new target.”

“You’re kidding.”

Hollingberry cut in quickly. “Just to do the research, not the actual hit.”

Nash laughed. “You want me to be a lightning rod.”

“Precisely,” agreed Morgan, “but at both ends. We want to draw out the mole and we want you to draw out the assassin. Find one and he will lead us to the other.”

“And if either one does take the bait?” Which is doubtful, he thought. Neither the mole nor the assassin could be so gullible as to believe the Department would continue with business as usual after recent events. “If you discover the identity of the assassin you may use any means at your disposal to end him. Deadly force is sanctioned. You understand me, Nash?”

“Yes, sir. Crystal clear.”

Hollingberry’s voice softened and took on a soothing tone. “You will be safe, Nash, I promise.”

“Thanks.” He couldn’t keep the tone of sarcasm out of his voice. They both knew her placatory assurances meant nothing. She couldn’t keep him safe from three hundred miles away.

“I’ll send the target details tonight as a secure message.”

“And put them in the debrief file for the mole to find?”

“Exactly,” she agreed. “Begin surveillance next week and keep in touch.”

“Ok. I’ll do my best.” Not that he had any other choice.

“Good luck, Nash,” said Morgan.

“Thank you, sir.” Nash clicked off the phone and dropped it on the sofa. He looked down at the cold mug of coffee on the windowsill. “Forget that,” he said, and went into the kitchen for a whisky.

Chapter Ten

The platform was crowded despite the early hour. Nash sipped his cappuccino as he looked around and concluded there were only two classes of people waiting for the London train: businessmen and holiday-makers. There really was no other reason to head for the capital. Nash had never liked London, even though he kept an apartment there, because it was simply too busy for his liking. Full of overweight, ignorant tourists from around the globe, alongside faceless suits locked into the pointless pursuit of yet more money.

“Penny for them,” said Hughes.

He glanced round into her sparkling eyes and smiled. “Just thinking I’m going to miss you.” She laughed. “Sure you were.” She reached a hand onto his forearm. “Are you alright, Dan?”

Nash nodded. “I’m fine, honestly. I’m going to have a relaxing weekend and I’ll be back to my normal self in no time.” “Good,” she said. “Just stay away from bridges and open spaces.”

He managed a half-smile. “Will do.”

The tannoy announced the imminent arrival of the intercity and people began to move to the edge of the platform even though it wasn’t yet in view. Nash reached over and took hold of her hand. She squeezed back and smiled at him.

As the train entered the station she stood up abruptly and picked up her travel bag. He stood up next to her and pulled her in for a lingering kiss. They separated reluctantly and she turned quickly towards the train. “Take care, Dan,” she said over her shoulder. “See you Sunday.”

“I’ll be here.” Nash waited until she found a window seat and waved as the train pulled away. She smiled and waved back. Then she was gone.

Nash walked outside and crossed over to the car park. It was another cool day, with a dark overcast, but at least it isn’t raining, he thought. He reached his car and sat for a moment deciding his next steps. He was glad he had thought to contact Jenny last night to offer to take her to Darlington station. At least he had gotten to see her before the weekend, and it had felt again like they were a couple. The lingering doubts about keeping her excluded from his feelings seemed to have lifted, but he was still aware that she really didn’t know the real Nash. And he wasn’t sure she would want to. Nash decided to call into the office. He was still officially off work for the week, but it would be an opportunity to run a database check on his latest target. Despite his assertion that it was a weak plan, he intended to complete the surveillance the following week. He would do everything correctly, professionally, and if the plan to draw out the killer failed, nobody could point a finger in his direction.

The drive to work took almost forty minutes because of the morning rush, but it was still before eight when he pulled into the car park and only a few spaces were filled. Nash took the back stairs up to the office to try to avoid any of the early starters – he didn’t want to get into conversations about the shooting, but knew it was inevitable. By now, everybody in the council knew he had been a witness on the Transporter and it made him the latest two-minute office celebrity. His team’s office was, thankfully, still empty, so he went straight to his desk and logged in using his backdoor access. The message from Hollingberry identified his latest target as one Phillipa Trelling. Another woman. Nash found her details quickly, but discovered she was single and had no children, which seemed odd because most of his targets were linked in some way to the abuse of children. There were no relationships recorded in the children’s database so he switched to adults and mental health. Bingo!

Trelling was almost fifty years old and worked in a clothing store in Middlesbrough centre as a shop assistant. She had previously been a care worker in a residential nursing home, as well as being the designated carer for her elderly mother. Her father had died years before in a car accident and Beatrice, her mother, shortly afterwards developed early onset dementia. Perhaps the strain of caring for her, alongside coping with the loss of her father, was the reason Phillipa had never married. Or perhaps she likes being alone, he thought.

Two years earlier, Beatrice contracted pneumonia and Trelling reluctantly called an emergency doctor. Trelling argued to keep her mother at home for treatment and it was only the insistence of the GP which ensured her admission to hospital. Once on the ward it was soon noted that Beatrice’s body was covered in bruises. Further tests revealed some poorly-healed fractures caused through impact injuries. She was clearly being beaten repeatedly and had been for some time. It was impossible to determine how long she had been suffering the abuse because her communication skills were almost non-existent due to her dementia. Trelling was the obvious suspect. The only suspect.

Investigations took place, but Trelling denied any wrongdoing. Then the nursing home where she worked discovered a number of residents - all with advanced dementia coupled with communication difficulties - with significant bruising. In most cases the bruises appeared to have been caused by nips, slaps and punches, and were often on parts of the body not associated with accidental injuries. There were also records of a number of dementia patients receiving injuries from falling, sometimes fractures, which conveniently never occurred in the view of staff. In every single case the residents concerned had received regular care from Trelling. While none of the residents could point the finger at her because of their condition, there were some who became visibly agitated in her presence.

There had also been some deaths in the home during her tenure, statistically a higher number than the five years before she had been employed. Nobody wanted to consider that she might have been involved in some way, because old people do die, but in two cases the deaths were attributed to falling accidents. The evidence wasn’t compelling enough to prosecute her, but it was enough to terminate her employment.

Since then, Trelling had applied as a volunteer to a local dementia charity and got as far as initial training before her history was discovered. A month later she secured a job with a care home in a neighbouring county using her mother’s maiden name as a false identity. She completed three shifts before her national insurance details were checked and the home followed the trail back to Middlesbrough and sacked her. Thankfully, none of their residents appeared to have been hurt, but only because Trelling hadn’t had an opportunity in such a short time.

Trelling now worked as a sales assistant so didn’t appear to pose an immediate risk, but social services and the police considered that it was simply a matter of time until she was in a position to do more harm. She continued to mount a legal challenge to resume the care of her mother and her attempts to gain access to elderly people through employment hinted at her perverted desires. She clearly had abused a large number of elderly people in the past, and just as clearly gained some measure of satisfaction from doing so. And she wanted to keep on hurting people.

She was a definitely a suitable candidate for the Department.

Nash closed down the computer, satisfied that he had enough information to begin his surveillance. Trelling’s current job was in the main shopping precinct in Middlesbrough so it would be a simple matter to keep an eye on her. He decided that he would begin on Monday morning with a shopping trip in the town to check her out. Then on Tuesday he would follow her home after the store closed.

From start to finish his office visit had taken less than ten minutes, so still none of his colleagues had arrived for week as he stood to leave. Perfect, he thought. He suddenly recalled the telephone call from Ruth about some photographs, so headed to the reception area to collect them on his way out.

Ruth was already in work – she was one of the early-birds – and appeared to be sorting envelopes into different sizes. Nash shook his head in disbelief. He thought social work could be trivial, but shuffling envelopes had to be the most mundane task he had ever seen.

“Morning,” he said.

She looked up from her work. “Hi, Nash. Come for your photos?” She reached into a drawer and passed him an envelope marked ‘private’. “Nice man, your friend.”

“I’m sure,” he agreed, taking it from her and tearing it open. “But I’m still not sure who he is.” There were half a dozen photographs inside which he tipped into his hand. “Fucking Jeezus!” Ruth raised her eyebrows in disgust. It was well known in the building she had an aversion to profanity, especially blasphemy.

“Nash, really,” she admonished him.

“Sorry, Ruth.” He flipped through the pictures quickly. They were all shots of Nash standing outside McCalman’s house wearing his fake electric company jacket. In one he appeared to be checking his electronic clipboard; in another, he pointed across the road to the corner house. The angle of composition suggested the photographs had been taken from an upstairs window in one of the houses opposite McCalman’s. It meant that not only did the killer know about Nash, but also had sufficient warning of his movements to enable him the time to gain access to the home across the street. And the photographs were clear evidence that Nash had been in the vicinity of McCalman’s house shortly after his death. Worse, they showed that he had been using an assumed identity – they made him look guilty as hell.

“What is it?” asked Ruth. She craned her back and neck to try and see the photos in his hand.

“Nothing.” He quickly shoved the pictures back into the envelope and put them in his back pocket. “Listen, Ruth. My friend – what did he look like?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “there were a lot of visitors yesterday. He was about your age, I would think, about forty.”

“I’m thirty six, but go on.”

She shrugged. “He had a cap on, one of those beanies, so I didn’t see his hair. Slim man. Average height.” That could describe half the male population, thought Nash. “Anything unusual that stood out, Ruth?”

“Stood out.” She clicked her fingers. “That’s the clue, Nash. Stood out. How could I forget that?” She laughed. Nash wanted to take hold of her and give her a shake. “What stood out?”

“Your friend had a wooden leg,” she explained. “Stood, stand, get it? I was about to say peg-leg, but I don’t think that’s politically correct, is it?” Nash didn’t point out that the term ‘wooden leg’ could be considered as equally offensive as ‘peg-leg’. It would only upset her.

“He had a prosthetic limb?”

“Yes, his right leg, I think. I noticed it when he hobbled out. It gave him a bit of a spring in his step.”

“Thanks, Ruth. Got to go.” Nash turned and headed out to his car. He threw the envelope on the passenger seat as he climbed in, and drove away quickly.

Nash had had an epiphany. He suddenly knew the identity of the killer, with absolute certainty, and knew it to be personal. Morgan and Hollingberry were wrong to think the Department was the sole target of the killer, though that might be part of his overall scheme. The bottom line was that the man had a grudge against Nash and was trying to ruin him – bringing misfortune on the Department was simply a by-product.

The wooden leg, as Ruth had expressed it, was the key. Nash had a flashback to the Cadogan hit beside the fountain – it seemed like a lifetime ago – but he recalled seeing a man with a prosthetic limb leaving the area just before he used the directed energy weapon. Nash had thought at the time it was an old war veteran passing the time in the park. He now realised he had been correct in his assumption, except about the man’s age – he was really a young war veteran. The man had clearly been the killer in disguise.

All of which meant the killer had been following Nash since he first arrived in Middlesbrough. It also confirmed that someone in the Department was feeding him information. There was no other way he could know so much about Nash’s plans.

Nash had to deal with the matter himself, he decided. He couldn’t trust anybody in the Department, not even Hollingberry. Any speculations he shared would be entered into the database and, in short order, would be available to the killer. The identity of the mole, and what to do about him, would have to be dealt with later. He knew he couldn’t use his mobile phone, because calls could be monitored too easily – Hollingberry had already demonstrated that by her knowledge of Jenny. Ideally, he needed to leave the phone at home to also stop his location being tracked. He drove into the town centre and parked in the multi-storey. The mobile remained securely in the dash. Nash spent an hour wandering aimlessly from shop to shop. He checked constantly for a tail, but was satisfied he wasn’t being followed. He was fairly certain the killer was working alone, so couldn’t know Nash’s daily movements with any accuracy. Not that he needed too, of course, because he knew from the Department mole exactly where Nash would be at critical times.

Eventually, Nash worked his way through the town centre to Middlesbrough railway station. It was one of the few locations where public payphones could still be found – the emergence of mobiles had forever altered the need for them - and now they seemed like quaint reminders of a simpler time. The station was quieter than Darlington – it wasn’t on the mainline to anywhere really – so the bank of phones was unoccupied and no passengers were close by. He lifted a receiver and inserted some coins before dialling a long number from memory.

“Adjutant General’s Corps. How may I help you?”

“Major Lancaster, please.”

There was a click and ringing tone as the call was transferred; no annoying muzak, thankfully.

“Major Lancaster, AGC, speaking.”

“Daniel Nash, Major.”

There was a pause followed by a laugh. “Nice to hear from you, Nash. Missing us?”

“Always,” said Nash. “Best years of my life were in the army.”

“Well, what can I tell you now that you’ve called? Helen is as lovely as ever and the kids are doing fine. I’ve got three now, you know, all boys. You won’t know about Josh, will you? Only two years old and a little swine already – likes to get into everything.”

“That’s great, Jim, but…”

“What, you didn’t ring to catch up on old times?” He snorted. “Course you bloody didn’t.” He sounded cross. “You haven’t called in three years, Dan. Why now?”

“I’m sorry, Jim. I should have stayed in touch,” he said, “but you know I wouldn’t ring now unless I really needed your help.” “That’s what I thought, Dan.” He sighed heavily. “Look, I’m not going to apologise for being angry. I worry about you. Here I am, surrounded by the human resources knowledge of the British Army and I haven’t the faintest idea where you went after mustering out. Or what you’ve been involved in. And it isn’t because somebody forgot to record the information – your file is simply blank. Not empty – it’s been erased and locked. Which tells me you’re doing something classified - something dangerous. And not contacting me for three years only confirms it.”

Nash said nothing.

“At least you aren’t denying it,” he said. “Where are you anyway?”


“Bloody hell.” Nash didn’t have to say anymore – the bridge murder was national news. “I take it you aren’t the sniper. Does that make you his next target?”

“I may not be next, but I am on his list,” he admitted. “I think its Philip Sark.”

“Sark? Yes, I can see that weasel becoming a terrorist. And he never did like you, did he?” Lancaster started typing.

“Hated my guts,” agreed Nash. “I never did understand why.”

“He hated everybody. Why should you be any different?”

“Yes, but he isn’t trying to kill the rest of my squad. This goes much deeper than that. I don’t understand his reasons, but he is my only suspect.” Nash dropped some more coins into the slot as the timer began to count down towards zero.

“Sark’s last recorded address is York,” said Lancaster. “That isn’t far from Middlesbrough, is it?”

“Less than an hour.” Everything seemed to fall into place in Nash’s mind. York had been the place he’d gone for R&R after his Doncaster assignment. He’d spent a week wandering the maze of streets to view the historic treats of the Viking and Roman town, including the architecture of the famous Minster. It had been a memorable stay, a necessary emotional recharge before resuming his task of doling out death to undesirables.

Sark could easily have spotted Nash during his wanderings around the city. It would have been a simple matter for Sark to tail him while his mind was focused on being a tourist. Harder to find details about his real work and employer. Harder still to find a susceptible Department controller, but clearly not impossible. It couldn’t be, because he had managed to do it.

“Give me the details, Jim,” said Nash.

“Fine. I’ll do it. But be careful, Dan.”

“I will. And give my best to Helen.”

“Just sort this fucking mess out,” he snapped, “and come and tell her yourself.”

“I will. I promise.” Nash memorised the address, thanked him, and hung up. He wondered briefly if he would ever see Lancaster again, then shrugged off the feeling. His life was going to change, he realised, regardless of the outcome of this crisis, but if he survived he would have to make the effort to renew old friendships.


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