And here it is, the final part of One Good Deed!
If you’ve stumbled upon this page by accident and want to know what it’s all about, head back to the index page, and read the earlier instalments to find out all about poor old Sam Barnes and his misadventures.
Disclaimer – while this is a finished draft, it has not been professionally edited or proof read. There will be typos and possibly continuity errors. Having said which, if you’ve enjoyed it (or if you have any comments at all) you can get in touch using the contact form.
I poked at the inside of my cheek with my tongue, felt the loose flap of skin where my teeth had cut into it. I was getting quite sick of being punched in the face by the big one, Jonno, but at least it meant his knife-wielding friend wasn’t playing. Not yet, anyway.
‘Where’s the memory stick?’ Jonno asked, for about the thousandth time.
‘There was no memory stick. Just the envelope.’ I nodded at the crumpled white paper, lying on the table in front of him. They’d tied me to a chair in the kitchen and then Jonno had gone to work. It didn’t seem to matter how many times I told them, the big man just seemed to get off on the violence. Which made sense, sort of.
‘You came all the way here just because of an address on an empty envelope?’
I looked up into the cold, narrow eyes of Mr Crisp. He was leaning against the sink, idly playing with a large kitchen knife he had found.
‘Do you think I’d have come here if there was a memory stick in it? It was empty. No stamp. Nothing. Just the name and address, and sealed shut. I guess he shoved it in my pocket in the park. I didn’t realise what it was until…’ I tailed off.
‘Until you started scribbling the names of senior police officers on it? What, you couldn’t find a post-it note?’
‘Not after you’d trashed my sister’s flat, no. It was the first thing that came to hand.’
The back-handed slap almost tipped me and chair both onto the floor. It snapped my head around further than I would have liked it to go, rattled my teeth and sent the lights spinning in my eyes again.
‘That’s for being cheeky,’ Jonno said. ‘Now tell us where the bloody memory stick is.’ He raised his hand for another blow and I instinctively tensed.
‘Actually, I think he might be telling the truth.’ Mr Crisp pushed himself forward and stuck his knife into the table top. ‘Mr Barnes is not a brave man, Jonno. We both know that. He’s got no good reason to hide things from us other than spite, and I really don’t think he’s got that in him.’
‘See. Your friend here believes me.’ I shook my head, just a little, to try and clear my vision. Then wished I hadn’t.
‘Oh Jesus. Not again.’ Jonno jumped back as I threw up on the floor beside me, not that he was in much danger of getting spattered. I’d nothing left but stomach lining and bile, burning my throat as it came up as if I didn’t hurt enough already.
‘Can I kill him then?’ Jonno asked. ‘If he’s got nothing for us.’ The simple brutality of the question cleared my mind more quickly than a bucket of cold water to the face. There was a horrifying, childlike eagerness in his tone. He really meant it.
‘Not yet. We need to find whatever it was he came here for. Then you can kill him.’ Mr Crisp turned and peered out of the window behind the sink, even though outside it was as black as pitch. ‘Plenty of places out here to lose a body, I’m sure. Might have to visit again.’
‘Can’t I just beat him up ‘til he tells us where it is?’ Jonno asked. Crisp gave him a look that spoke of very long suffering.
‘No, Jonno. He doesn’t know where it is. Probably doesn’t even know what it is. The envelope was a message, telling whoever got it to come here. That means that whatever Prowett stole from the Old Man, he brought here for safekeeping. It’s not a big house, so I suggest we get looking. You go upstairs. I’ll start with the computer in the living room.’
They left me in the kitchen, alone with my pain. But at least they hadn’t killed me. I looked around the small room, surprised to find that my earlier terror had largely gone. I guess it’s true what they say about flooding; you can only be shit scared for so long, then it starts to get old. It probably helped that the source of my fear was out of sight, too. Now I was starting to get angry again, and I focussed on the knife still stuck into the table top opposite where I was sitting.
I flexed my arms and legs against my bonds, but they had been tied tight, by professionals. The chair itself might have collapsed if I’d weighed twenty-five stone and had a year to thrash backwards and forwards on it. Seems the Welsh know how to make solid, simple furniture, more’s the pity. Anything from IKEA and it would have been simple to break free.
Noises from upstairs signalled the start of Jonno’s search. It sounded like he was pulling entire drawers out and throwing them on the floor. I pictured my sister’s flat, and then my own house, turned over as if a tiny and very focussed tornado had swept through them. This was obviously his modus operandi, and though even I could see that it wasn’t a very efficient way to find something small, I appreciated the cover that the noise gave me.
My legs might have been tied firmly to the chair, but my feet could still flex and touch the floor. If I threw my weight forward just enough, I could spring up slightly, shifting myself sideways before clattering down again on the flagstones. I started off very gently, trying not to alert my captors, inching slowly along the length of the table towards the knife. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do once I reached it; try to grip it in my teeth, probably. And then? Well, I’d worry about that when I got there. First there was the half marathon to be run.
My calves started to burn after about the tenth move, so I stopped to rest for a moment. Upstairs, Jonno was still crashing around like a bull elephant in rut, so I reckoned I could probably try to be a bit more noisy, make a fraction more distance with each lunge. Tensing myself I thrust my body forwards, then flexed my feet as hard as I could once they touched the floor, shifting my weight sideways in the direction of the knife as I did so. For a moment I thought it had worked, but then with a terrible sense of helplessness I realised I’d overdone it.
Had my arms been free, I’m sure I would have windmilled them in best comedy fashion as my centre of gravity tipped further and further away from the table. Tied firmly to the chair, there was nothing I could do but await the inevitable. It was a slow fall backwards, at least at first. Then it gained momentum until with a crack that mashed my teeth together and blackened my vision, I crashed into the cooker. Unbelievable pain lanced across the back of my head, and I was sure that brain matter must have been leaking from a huge, jagged-edged hole in my skull. I was held for an instant, tilted far back, my neck taking the entire weight of my body and then the chair pivoted against my head, my sideways momentum took over, toppling me helplessly to the floor.
I must have blacked out completely, as the next thing I knew I was being hauled to my feet by what looked like two Jonnos standing so close to each other as to be almost merging. Two left hands smacked me hard across the face, and I dimly registered somewhere that it hurt. He was saying something, but I couldn’t really make out what. My ears were too busy ringing.
He pulled the knife out of the tabletop, and I was sure that here and now was how it was all going to end. I wondered idly whether he’d stab me or just slit my throat, but in the end he did neither. He cut the ropes tying my feet to the chair, then freed my arms.
I was dragged rather than marched through the house and out of the front door. A light came on as we tripped its sensor, and the night receded a hundred feet or so, revealing low, scrubby bushes and the well I had seen earlier. The cold air brought me a little to my senses as Jonno pushed me towards it.
‘I’ve had enough of your fucking shit,’ he said as we reached the low structure. He kicked the back of my legs and I collapsed against the stone wall. Before I knew what was happening, Jonno threw the knife into the ground, pulled a pair of handcuffs out of his pocket and slapped one end of them around my wrist. He yanked me upwards again, pulled my arms around the solid wooden post that supported one side of the roof over the well, and slapped the other end of the cuffs over my other wrist. Satisfied I wasn’t going anywhere, he bent down and pulled the knife out of the ground, pointed it at me.
‘You can shout all you like, but no one’ll hear you except me and Mr Crisp. You’ve already pissed me off. If you’ve any sense at all, you won’t do the same with him.’
He turned on his heel and stalked off back to the house. About five minutes after he’d shut the door, the outside light went out. A minute after that it started to rain. I wanted to feel the back of my head, which was burning like it had been branded. It was probably for the best that I couldn’t reach it. Water from the roof over the well started to drip down my neck, so I clambered up onto the low wall, sitting with my legs astride the post, almost hugging it to keep as dry as possible. It was pitch dark and bitter cold, but dawn couldn’t be too far off. Soon enough they’d find what they were looking for here, or decide that there was nothing to hide. I had perhaps a few hours of miserable grace whilst they searched. After which I would die.
‘I’m sorry Tommy, but I’m going to have to abandon you at the station.’
Campbell peered through the windscreen at the red traffic light, sparkly through the rain but still annoying. They had left Alice Barnes’ apartment just before the local plod arrived, which would probably cause all manner of headaches later, but made life a lot easier now. Her phone was back in its cradle on the dashboard, switched to Sat-Nav mode and taking her a very strange route through parts of Birmingham she didn’t feel the need to explore. At least her car looked in keeping with the graffiti all over the brick walls.
‘Wouldn’t it be better if I came with you?’ Flass asked. ‘I mean, you’re going to need back up aren’t you?’
Campbell smiled despite herself. He was sweet, really. Like a little puppy desperately trying to be good. ‘I know some of the lads at Aberystwyth Nick. Tim started off there when he came out of the army. We all used to go hiking in the hills.’ Well, drinking beer and seeing who could tell the crudest jokes, but it was the same thing really. ‘I’ll make sure there’s plenty of help on hand before I go out to the cottage. But I need you for something else.’
‘Aye. I need you to get down to London as fast as you can. Go see Detective Chief Superintendent Fry at SOCA HQ. She heads up our entire division, and if she’s bent then we’re screwed beyond anything. I’m guessing Jonas has been stringing her along, so you’re going to have to persuade her.’
Flass frowned at the scene outside their little metal cocoon. ‘You really think Jonas is the leak? I mean, he’s got every reason to be asking for those details.’
‘I’m finding it hard to believe myself.’ Campbell followed the instructions on her phone, pulling out into a wider road and spotting a sign for New Street Station. ‘But he had the chance to tell me what he’d found, and he didn’t say a thing. Now he won’t even answer his phone. He was driving somewhere when he phoned me. I’d lay good odds it wasn’t Birmingham.’
‘But he’s a DCI for god’s sake. You said he’s retiring at the end of the month. What the hell’s he doing giving tip-offs to these people?’
‘I wish I knew, Tommy. Hell, I hope I’m wrong. But if I’m not, then he’s going where Sam’s gone, and he’s probably told his two hit men too. Poor bastard’s leading them right to Tim’s hiding place. Once they get there, they’ll destroy whatever’s been sent there, kill Sam, and we’ll have the square root of fuck all to show for it.’
Flass shook his head gently, as if doing so would dislodge some sense from everything that was happening. ‘And you’re sure Sam’s going to this place in Wales?’
‘The M56 goes to Shrewsbury. From there you head south-west up the Severn valley and into the mountains. That’s where Tim’s cottage is. It’s the only place he could be heading.’
Even as she said it, Campbell realised just how thin her case was. There was no hard evidence of anything. You could come up with more rational explanations for everything, even Jonas’ behaviour over the past few days. But she knew she was right. And if she wasn’t, well she’d be losing her job anyway. Might as well go out big style.
The road at the front of the station concourse said ‘Taxis Only’, but Campbell ignored it, stopped right in front of the entrance and paid no heed to the sour looks from the collected cabbies. Flass climbed out of the car, leant back in for one last word.
‘Don’t take any stupid risks, OK?’ he said.
Campbell grinned. ‘That’s kind of what I do, Tommy.’
‘Well, be careful, yeah?’
‘Go. Get your train. I’ll be fine.’ She reached over, pulled the door shut and drove off. When she looked in the rear view mirror before turning at the end of the concourse, he was still standing there, staring after her. Poor wee thing. Campbell tapped the screen of her phone, bringing up the new destination she had already programmed into it. A glance at the clock told her she’d be lucky to get there before the morning, later if she had to stop by Aberystwyth and put together a team. She’d call ahead and make sure they were ready to go, but either way it was going to be dawn before they could safely approach the cottage.
She could only hope Sam would still be alive to see it rise.
I’m not sure when I started to notice the growing light. I might have slept a little, hugging the wooden post, but mostly I was just cold and miserable, shivering in the damp air. The rain dwindled away to a thick mist at some point during the early hours of the morning. Jonno and Mr Crisp must have given up their search too, as the noise from the cottage fell away to nothing, leaving me with just the whistle of the wind in the nearby trees and the occasional cough of a sheep. Gradually shapes began to resolve themselves out of the gloom, revealing a rough landscape of gorse and rocks, scrubby grass and rushes. The track up which I’d driven was little more than parallel ruts through the moorland, descending in a long, slow arc towards a thick band of pine trees in the distance. Everything dropped away into a wide valley, the far side taking its time to appear. It would probably have been breathtaking and wonderful if I’d not been nursing the mother of all headaches, exhausted and aching from head to foot.
It took a while for me to register the noise, such was the peace of the place, but slowly the sound of a car’s engine grew out of the silence. At first it was no more than a low hum, the promise of something coming. I couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t imagining it. Or maybe repeated blows to my head had induced tinnitus. It was such a pathetic thing to worry about, the thought made me laugh out loud, and the movement shook a stab of pain through my head, silencing me just as quickly. But the noise was still there, unmistakably a car engine. I stared down the track towards the woods, desperately hoping that what would appear would be a police car. Or better yet an army Land Rover with half a dozen SAS veterans on board. Instead I was rewarded with the sight of a few manky and dishevelled sheep trotting towards the cottage, no doubt the source of the mysterious coughing in the night. And then, finally, wheels crunched over stone as a car inched carefully towards me.
At first I couldn’t work out why, but the car was strangely familiar. One of those new Jaguar XKs, it wasn’t really suited to the terrain, which was probably why it was being driven so slowly and carefully, weaving from side to side to avoid the worst of the potholes. Even so, there was a horrible metal scraping sound as rock met expensive engineering. Hidden under the low canopy covering the well, I instinctively tightened my grip on the wooden post, shrinking myself against it in the hope I wouldn’t be seen, even as I realised where I’d seen this car before. It pulled up in front of the cottage and Detective Chief Inspector Jonas climbed out.
Relief flooded through me with the force of an orgasm. The cavalry had arrived in the nick of time. Jonas hadn’t seen me; his attention was on the cottage. I was about to call out to him, and then it struck me how odd it was that he was here alone. Either the armed police who were backing him up were very good at hiding, or they weren’t here at all. And if they weren’t here, then what was Jonas doing?
I’ll admit that I’m probably not the brightest, certainly not all that imaginative, but even I could work it out. After all, this was the man who had been so persuasive, so keen for me not to go straight into protective custody, but to help his team flush out the killers. What better way to hand me over to them without raising suspicion? And no wonder they’d been able to track me down wherever I went, if the man in charge of the whole investigation was giving them all the information they needed.
On the other hand, Jonas was clearly alone. I don’t know why, but it cheered me up no end to see that Detective Sergeant Campbell wasn’t with him. It was just possible that she was on the level; she’d given me all those names of high up and respectable officers to talk to, after all. Perhaps there was the tiniest possibility that she might have worked out where I was going. Even now she might be coming to my rescue. It was a slim hope, but I clung to it like the only piece of raggedy flotsam in a wide and empty ocean.
I kept totally still, hardly even breathing, willing Jonas not to see me. He stretched like a man who’s spent many hours in a car, pulled out his phone and glanced at its screen before shoving it back into his pocket, then glanced quickly over the scene. His gaze slid over the well, but if he saw me he didn’t register. Three steps took him to the front door. He reached out, pressed the bell. There was the shortest of pauses whilst the whole world seemed to hold its breath.
And then the cottage exploded.
Bleary eyed, Campbell stifled yet another yawn and tried to focus on the road ahead. Dawn was starting to paint the undersides of the clouds in girly pink. Red sky in the morning, Shepherd’s warning. That was the rhyme her dad had taught her. It seemed oddly prescient now. There was no doubt she was headed into danger.
It had taken more than four hours from Birmingham New Street so far. Having to stop and fill up with fuel hadn’t helped, but the Sat-Nav on her phone had been worse than useless, sending her down narrow lanes and strange detours. It had finally given up when the phone signal had degraded to the point where it couldn’t access the maps held on some central server rather than the machine itself. So much for computing in the cloud.
At least the hours had given her time to think. She was still having a hard time getting her head around the idea of Jonas being bent. It would have been less surprising to find out that Jesus harboured a hidden jealous streak. Jonas was a legend, the scourge of the London underworld. OK, so he perhaps wasn’t as hot on the new hi-tech crime, but his instincts were spot on. He had a knack, a nose for sniffing out the bad guys. And he hated them with a passion that had surprised Campbell when she’d first witnessed him interviewing a suspect. It wasn’t faked, which made the thought of Jonas willingly giving up crucial information almost impossible to believe.
But she knew damned well she wasn’t the leak, and everyone else at SOCA had been out of the loop, which meant it could only be Jonas. There was the small matter of his unexpected disappearances, too. He’d claimed he was working the case from a different angle, or squaring things up with the superintendent, but Campbell had no way of knowing what he’d really been up to. He’d never gone to the nursing home, after all, despite saying he would. And then he’d found out about the envelope and not told her.
She hit the brakes, swerved and skidded to a halt as something small and furry darted across the narrow road in front of her. A rush of adrenaline blew the cobwebs from her mind. She’d almost nodded off at the wheel. Pulling over to the side, Campbell turned off the engine, climbed out of the car to stretch.
The road ran between dark stands of close-planted conifers, a few scrubby grasses and rushes hiding the drainage ditches that filled the narrow gap between tarmac and trees. It was perfectly still, that dawn calm that could persuade you all was well with the world. Something rustled in the undergrowth nearby, startling her, and Campbell looked around to see a black cat peering out at her. For a moment she thought it was a feral panther, escaped from a zoo or released by some unlicensed collector when it grew too big to manage, but it was just a trick of the light. Her eyes deceiving her. The cat stood, strutted out of the grass towards her, revealing it to be nothing more startling than a domestic moggie.
‘Gave me a bit of a fright there.’ Campbell crouched down, reached out a tentative hand, which the cat sniffed before allowing itself to be scratched behind the ears. At any other time it would have been a perfect moment, but Tim was dead, her boss was corrupt and an innocent man was going to be killed just because he thought he was doing the right thing. Oh, and there was the small matter of her career hurtling towards oblivion.
The cat tensed for no apparent reason, darted away into the bushes. Campbell stood up, looked up and down the deserted road. She wasn’t far from the cottage now, closer still to her rendezvous with the squad joining her from Aberystwyth. One way or the other, this should all be over soon.
She was just climbing back into the car when the explosion rocked the air, echoing back and forth across the empty valley.
Jonno woke to the sound of a car scraping its undersides open on the track outside. For a moment he couldn’t remember where he was, then it started to sink in. The cottage in Wales. Christ he hoped that bastard Barnes had frozen to death overnight. Whiny little fucker had been nothing but trouble since the off. They really should’ve just cut his throat and left him at his friend’s house.
An odd, unpleasant smell lingered in the air as he climbed out of the armchair he’d obviously fallen asleep in. Christ, he hoped he hadn’t done that. Then again, who knew what was in that curry they’d picked up on the way. Who knew what the Welsh ate?
He didn’t remember going to sleep, which was worrying. Didn’t remember drinking the scotch they’d found in the old antique bureau either. Must have done though, otherwise why did his head feel like someone’d been practising football with it all night?
Mr Crisp was nowhere to be seen. Probably sloped off upstairs to get himself a comfy bed. Wasn’t that just like the lazy fucker. Jonno stumbled across the living room, his feet heavier than they should have been. Pushed open the door into the front hall. It was gloomy in here, the one narrow window overgrown on the outside so hardly any light could get in. Scratching at his privates, he reached up for the light switch, noticing the stench even stronger in here. Rotten eggs or garbage or something.
‘Jesus Christ. What the fuck is that smell?’ Jonno’s chubby finger found the switch, pulled it downwards.
With hindsight, it was probably the cooker. I’d given it a good clout with my head, after all. There had been plenty of time for a broken pipe to leak gas into the cottage, all it needed was a spark. What amazed me, in the split second before the blast hit, was just how destructive a little bit of gas and air could be. All the windows shot outwards in lethal shards. I could have sworn that the roof rose up. Jonas was lifted off his feet and hurled backwards at his car. And then a wave of invisible force slammed into me.
It didn’t occur to me until that precise moment just how foolish sitting on the stone wall surrounding a well could be. I gripped the post tight to stop me falling in, but the whole roof structure was considerably weaker than I’d expected and tilted with the force of the explosion. Slate tiles crashed to the ground all around me, and then the whole thing collapsed. The post broke off at its base and toppled over, catching the other side of the well. Unbalanced and with my arms restricted, I couldn’t stop myself from falling into the dark hole. I yelped in pain as the cuffs dug into my wrists, the weight of my body trying to pull my arms out of their sockets. I hung from the post, dangling over the middle of the well, supported by a creaking and rotten piece of wood. There was just enough time for me to glance downwards and see the reflected glint of light off water far below, then the post cracked in the middle and I was falling into the earth.
The world looks very different when you’re staring up from the bottom of a well. For a start, you can’t see very much of it. Just a tiny circle of sky, far away. Stare too long and it can seem like you’re whirling around at enormous speed while the sky stays still. It’s odd to think that you might get vertigo at the bottom of something, but I found myself gripping the damp earth beneath me in terror of falling off.
I don’t recall much about the fall, or even hitting the bottom. There was water, but it was only a couple of inches deep. I’ve read somewhere that you can drown in that, but I somehow managed to end up on my back, so I was OK there. Not so good was the impact with the soft mud just below the water’s surface. I think I might have bashed my arms off the walls a couple of times on the way down, too, and the broken post that had dropped me in the first place hit me in the stomach, twice. I’ve been winded before, but never this bad. I thought I was going to pass out as I struggled to breathe, each gasp a futile, painful effort that took all of what little energy I had. Slowly the air started to make its way into my lungs, but it brought little in the way of relief, as if the atmosphere was somehow thinner down here. Or maybe it wasn’t air at all. I’d heard of caves where carbon monoxide collected at floor level, why not wells? That would be typical of my luck, to survive this far only to asphyxiate down a well.
The sound of the explosion roared in my ears for what seemed like hours, slowly dulling to a soft hiss that blotted out anything else, even the beating of my heart. I found I could breathe after all, but not without searing pain in my chest. It felt like my sternum had been broken in two, but was probably only a cracked rib. I lay there for a long time, not sure if I could move if I wanted to. There was an odd kind of peace to be had in just staring up at the sky, and if it hadn’t been so damned cold I might have stayed forever. No one was trying to kill me down here, after all.
In the end it was a combination of things that got me moving. The cold was seeping into my bones, making me drowsy, but that was countered by the pain throbbing in my head and in my chest with each breath. It was only as I tried to sit up that I remembered the handcuffs. They chafed at my wrists and severely limited my options, not that I had many to start with.
The bottom of the well was wider than the top, the shaft opening out to a space maybe eight feet in diameter. It was hewn from the rock, some kind of slate I guess, and a constant trickle of water ran down the sides. It must have then gone somewhere else, because the pool at my feet was too shallow to cover my boots, even when they sank into the thick layer of dark, soft silt beneath. Looking up at the tiny circle of light above, I saw that it wasn’t as deep as I’d first thought. I’m not good at judging distances, but it didn’t look any higher than the gutters of my house. It could have been a hundred feet or more, for all that I could do about it.
My ears must have stopped ringing, as I could make out noises. There was the soft, constant trickle of water, of course, but also what sounded like conversation, the voices too distant to hear what they were actually saying. I was about to shout for help when I remembered why I was down here, stifled the yell before it could escape. I’d seen Jonas knocked over by the blast, but he might have survived. And knowing my luck Jonno and Mr Crisp had too. They were probably planning what to do with me even now.
It was dark in my tiny cell, difficult to make out any details against the black walls. Looking up, the bright, white sky caused too much glare to make out any details, so I walked slowly around the circle, feeling for any kind of handhold, or better yet a ladder. I was concentrating on the stone at head height, which is how I managed to trip over the bucket. I fell awkwardly, unable to spread my arms to steady myself, and banged my head on the wall. Dazed, I picked up the bucket, meaning to throw it away in anger, and then realised that it was attached to a thick rope which snaked up towards the light.
I grabbed at it with both hands and pulled as gently as I could so as not to give myself away. It slid down through my fingers, gathering speed until I was sure that the end was going to tumble past me, probably with a heavy winding mechanism attached to clatter into my head. But after a while it stopped. I gave it another tug and it appeared stuck fast. I put more weight on it; still nothing. Hauling myself upwards, I braced my feet against the rock wall and started to climb.
The gate was open when Campbell arrived, just minutes after the explosion. Half a dozen frightened sheep had gathered in the entrance, their fear of the unknown woods in perfect balance with their fright from whatever had befallen the cottage. She drove through them slowly, assuming they would scatter. Reluctantly they complied.
Beyond the trees, a dark pall of smoke rose into the morning sky exactly above the spot where Tim’s cottage stood. Campbell inched up the track, trying to avoid the worst of the potholes and sharp, protruding rocks. Looking ahead for the cottage to appear over the rise, she was on it sooner than she expected.
There wasn’t much left of the sturdy slate bothy she remembered. Its roof was gone and the stone walls had collapsed inwards, the top storey presumably now filling the interior. The well had collapsed too, its roof lying in broken pieces to one side of the low, round wall. At least the barn was still standing, and the byre that made up the other side of the open courtyard.
Jonas’ Jaguar sat in front of the house, leaning slightly to one side as if its tyres had been slashed. A red Alfa Romeo estate had been parked up in the narrow space that led around to the back door. Fallen masonry lay around it, but somehow it seemed to have emerged unscathed. Campbell stopped her own car twenty yards down the track, got out carefully and listened. She was all too aware that there had been two professional killers in the house. From the look of the place, anyone inside when the explosion had happened should be dead, but she couldn’t be sure.
A gentle breeze dispersed the cloud of smoke overhead and sighed in the far off trees. Somewhere in the distance, a Red Kite whistled for its mate. There was no other sound at all. Still, Campbell waited, just in case. She gave it two minutes, knowing full well that she should have stayed put until backup arrived from Aberystwyth. Then, when she was sure that there was no immediate threat, she approached the house.
Jonas lay on the ground in front of his car. His face looked like he’d been on Holiday in Ibiza for a week, and his suit was in tatters. Campbell had never really understood that expression until know, but seeing the strips of material hanging down as if someone had hacked at the jacket with a blunt razor, she saw what it meant. His trousers weren’t any better. Stooping, she checked his pulse, and at her touch he groaned, eyes flickering under closed, reddened lids.
‘Don’t try to move, sir.’ Campbell made to loosen his tie, but Jonas fought her off, still groaning as he struggled to sit. Finally he opened his eyes and gave her a bloodshot stare.
‘Oh fucking brilliant. The cavalry’s arrived.’
Campbell stood back as if she’d been slapped. ‘You evil old bastard.’ She’d only meant to think the words, but they slipped out. All too easily heard in the quiet morning stillness. Jonas chuckled.
‘Finally got yourself a bit of backbone, have you?’ He coughed, spat something heavy out onto the ground beside him, rolled away from her. ‘Bit fucking late for that, isn’t it.’
‘What are you doing here, sir?’ Campbell watched as Jonas struggled onto all fours, then pushed himself upright against his car, and finally made it to his feet. She was damned if she was going to help him now.
‘What do you think I’m doing? Trying to rescue something of my career before it all goes completely to shit.’
‘Oh aye? That’d be the whole “legend in the met” nonsense they told me when I first joined up. Hard bastard George Jonas, the scourge of the East End underworld. Like DI Regan from the Sweeney but without the sense of fair play? Only it was all a lie. The whole time. You weren’t fighting them, you were working for them.’
Jonas didn’t respond at first. He leant back against his car, looked around the empty landscape. Finally he fixed his stare on Campbell. She met his gaze with a furious one of her own.
‘I’ve been a copper all my working life, sergeant. Forty bloody years and most of them a detective. I’ve seen colleagues take bungs, sell out, turn a blind eye for a favour owed. But in all those long years I’ve never, ever taken money from anyone. I’ve seen how they work, how they put you in impossible situations. It’s hard to grass up your mates, the people you rely on when you’re in the field, but I’ve done it when someone’s stepped too far over the line. I’m not bent. I’d rather cut my own throat than work for any of the scum I’ve put away down the years.’
Campbell almost clapped. ‘Nice speech. Why don’t you tell it to Tim? Or to Constable Pointer? Izzy Connell? Sam Barnes? Someone’s been leaking information since this operation started. There’s only you and me, and it sure as hell wasn’t me.’
‘You’re right. I was the leak.’ Jonas stared down at his feet. ‘I trusted someone, and that turned out to be a bad decision.’
‘Bob fucking Hayley, that’s who.’
Campbell took a moment to place the name. ‘Robert Haley. Ex-DCI Robert Haley? Wasn’t he…’
‘My boss in the Flying Squad. Yeah. That’s the bastard.’
‘But I… He…’ Campbell pictured a scene, months earlier. A café in the East End of London. Her, Jonas, Tim and a couple of other SOCA officers sitting round a stained Formica table whilst a white haired old man held court. Stories about the old days of gangland wars and organised crime. The Krays and other names she knew only from books and films. People DCI Hayley and a young DC Jonas had known first hand.
‘They call him The Old Man. Well, called. I shot him last night, so I don’t suppose anyone’ll be calling him much anymore.
‘You met with him. Every Tuesday and Thursday. Is that who you’ve been phoning all this time?’
‘I needed another person to bounce ideas off. Who’d be better than the man who taught me everything? He runs a security outfit. Well, ran, I guess. Personal protection for corporate bigwigs, all that sort of stuff. He’s got high level clearance you wouldn’t believe. Military, police, intelligence services. They all trust him. Hell, I trusted him. He’s been trying to recruit me this last year, and you know, I was seriously thinking of accepting his offer. I didn’t know about the other side of his organisation. Don’t suppose anyone did. Except maybe Tim, and by then it was too late for him.’
Campbell took a step towards Jonas, still staring at his feet. The DCI looked a lot older than his sixty years, his hair half burned away, his face blackened and burned, his clothes hanging around him by willpower more than fabric strength. There was a certain horrible plausibility to what he was saying, though she still couldn’t understand why he’d come here, alone, without telling anyone where he was going.
‘Look, I…’ She started to say, but he raised his eyes, then widened them in surprise at something behind her.
‘Jesus fuck. Watch out.’ Jonas shoved Campbell away from him hard, almost punching her on the shoulder so she spun as she fell. Surprise turned to alarm as she saw first the knife, swinging too close to her throat for comfort, and then the man who wielded it. Tall, thin, he looked exactly like you might expect someone who had just survived an exploding building to look. His clothes hadn’t fared any better than Jonas’, the padding oozing from his leather coat where shards of glass had torn it to shreds. His jeans were ripped, although that could have been a fashion statement. There was nothing trendy about the blood smeared across his face, dripping from his angular chin and the point of his thin nose. No ambiguity in the intent of that knife, either.
Off balance, Campbell fell backwards, tripping on a fallen rock. It probably saved her life; the thin man was quick as a snake with his knife, whipping it back in an arc that should have cut her deep. All the wind flew out of her in a great whoosh as she hit the ground badly. Her head clattered off the stone with a force that jarred her teeth together and blackened her vision. Through watering eyes she saw the thin man with the knife turn on Jonas, who was struggling to pull a gun out of his waistband, hindered by the tatters of his jacket. Before she’d had time to wonder why Jonas had a gun and where he’d got it from, he had fired. The noise was less than she had expected, with nothing to echo off. A chunk of dirt and rocks exploded from the ground a few paces away, but the shot had gone wide of its mark. The thin man grinned a smile filled with cracked yellow-brown teeth. He feinted to one side, drawing Jonas’ aim, then darted back the other way, stepping forward too close. Jonas tried to step back, found himself blocked by the wing of his car, brought the gun round again, but Campbell knew it was going to be too late.
The thin man stepped in like a ballet dancer, one hand grabbing the gun and pushing it away. The other hand swung low, brought the knife in at an upwards angle as he plunged it into Jonas’ stomach, just below his ribcage.
Horrified by the sheer practiced elegance of the movements, Campbell found herself wondering if this was the same man who had killed Tim, the same knife. At least this time it was quick. Jonas died in an instant, the light going out of his eyes as the blade found his heart. His whole body slumped, and the thin man took the gun from his limp hand in another fluid motion. Then he slid the knife out, let the body of Detective Chief Inspector George Jonas slide slowly down the wing of the car and crumple to the ground.
It all happened so fast. Still winded, still dizzy from the blow to her head, Campbell could do nothing but watch as the thin man wiped the bloody blade on his torn jeans, turned his attention to her. Finally some of her training kicked in and she scrabbled backwards, trying to get to her feet.
‘Ah, ah. No you don’t.’ The thin man waved the knife backwards and forwards. Campbell found her footing at the same time as her hand felt a loose rock. She hurled it at her attacker, pushing herself to her feet at the same time. It bounced off his shoulder, but he hardly even winced. Just raised the gun in a swift arc and shot her.
A shot echoed down the well like, well, a gunshot. I was so startled I nearly let go of the rope, scrabbled for footholds and cracked my knuckles against the rough stone wall. For a moment I was convinced I’d been discovered and someone was trying to finish me off. The first shot had missed, but the second would surely get me. I was too big a target in too small a space. Fish in a barrel. Pig in a poke. But the second shot never came, no punch of oblivion smashing my skull open. Slowly my heart dropped back down my throat to somewhere close to where it was meant to be. Still hammering away like I’d run a marathon uphill, but the panic subsided with it. Reason told me that there was someone up top with a gun. I had no way of telling whether it was an unlikely arrival of the cavalry, or the bad guys arguing it out amongst themselves. How any of them could have survived that blast, I had no idea.
Whatever was happening, down the well was the worst place to be. It wouldn’t take them long to realise I was here, and then there was that whole fish and barrel thing to worry about. I gritted my teeth against the pain and started to haul myself upwards again.
It wasn’t an easy climb. I was always useless at ropes in PE, and that was without the added hindrance of having your wrists handcuffed together. There was just enough freedom of movement for me to manage, but at the expense of all the skin on my knuckles.
The closer I came to the top, the clearer the voices became. I still couldn’t make out the words, but at least one of them was a woman. That lifted my spirits no end. If it was Campbell, then she would surely have brought back up with her. Even now they’d be scouring the explosion site, looking for me. Once more I was about to call out for help, but then I heard a sharp crack and the woman let out a scream of pain. I froze, dangling just a few feet from the opening, and strained to hear what was being said.
‘…old man was just the starter…’ It was Mr Crisp, his words fading in and out. ‘…take my time with you…’
I pulled myself up slowly until my head was level with the low wall that surrounded the well. As luck would have it, the rope was hooked around a pile of broken roof trusses toppled away from the house, so I had to twist around, risking a tumble back down the well, and pop my head up over the ledge to see what was happening.
The cottage had collapsed in on itself, its roof gone. Only a few blackened timbers still clung on at the gable ends. Dark smoke rose up from somewhere deep inside. The Jaguar was still parked in front of where the door had been, and slumped on the ground in front of it was a body. From the way it was lying, it was either dead or way past caring. I couldn’t tell which; neither could I see whose body it was. I’d already heard Mr Crisp’s voice. Too much to hope that it was Jonno.
‘They say that gunshot wounds only hurt when you move, so you might want to stay still.’ The sound of Mr Crisp’s voice snapped my attention away from the prone body. He was standing not far away from it, a gun in one hand, knife in the other. DS Campbell lay on the ground at his feet, very much alive. In my shock, I started to lose hold on the rope and had to scrabble over the lip of the wall, dropping into a low crouch where I was fairly sure I couldn’t be seen. Even though I tried to be as quiet as possible, it sounded like a horde of angry elephants trampling through a cymbal factory. Not more than twenty yards away, Mr Crisp didn’t hear me, and as I looked at the back of his head, I could see spots of dark blood on his shoulders and ears. So the explosion had done me at least one favour.
‘I don’t like to be rushed.’ His voice was loud, like a deaf person talking. ‘The copper, he made me rush.’
Campbell inched backwards, trying to get away. Her hand had dropped from her shoulder, showing a nasty dark patch on her shirt. I looked around, saw the open moorland dropping away towards the woods. If I crawled for a few tens of yards, I’d be out of view and could leg it back to the main road. There had to be another farmhouse or cottage somewhere reasonably nearby where I could raise the alarm.
‘But you?’ Mr Crisp shoved the gun into a coat pocket, not noticing that it fell right through and clattered to the ground. He shook his head as if trying to clear water out of his ears, then flipped the knife from one hand to the other. Took a step closer to Campbell, bent down and reached for her head. Her eyes were half closed as the shock of being shot took over, but she tried to lift them up, to face him. Tried to fend him off with weak hands.
‘I can take my time with you.’
Which was when I clobbered him with a bit of wood.
It made the most satisfying noise I’ve ever heard as stout oak connected with skin and bone. Something like hitting a watermelon with a cricket bat, only with extra crunchiness. Mr Crisp’s head whipped around with the force, then he crumpled to his knees. Like a tree slow to realise it’s been felled, he toppled forwards, almost in slow motion. There was a sound like ripping cloth, something hollow being punctured, and then the back of his coat tented upwards. He came to rest on his front, arm twisted underneath his body, the tip of his knife poking out through a hole in the back of his black leather coat somewhere mid-point between his shoulder blades. His legs twitched and kicked, once, twice, and then he was still.
‘Fuck me.’ I let the piece of wood go, my hands shaking too much to hold it any more. For a long while I just stared at the body, waiting for Mr Crisp to get up, turn on me, cut me open like he had done to Tim Prowett, Steve Pointer and Izzy. But he just lay there, dead. Finally, I looked over at Campbell. She was staring at me with a half-glazed expression I’d more normally associated with the drunken chavs in the pub on Friday night. Beside her, just out of reach, was the gun. I stepped over on wobbly legs and picked it up, scared it might go off. It was heavier than I’d expected, as if it carried the weight of its maker’s intentions as well as the mass of metal and plastic.
‘You want to slide the safety on.’ Campbell didn’t look up at me as she spoke. She was very pale, shivering slightly. The front of her blouse was stained dark, shiny red, putting me in mind of poor Constable Pointer. I looked around for anything that might have been a safety catch, finding a small sliding button on the side near the trigger. I pushed it forward and it obscured the tiny red dot that had been showing.
‘Thought you were dead.’ Campbell tried to move and failing. Fresh blood leaked out of the tiny round hole near her shoulder, and it occurred to me that I should be doing something to help her.
‘I fell down the well.’ I knelt down beside her ‘Here, let me put some pressure on that.’ Putting the gun on the ground, I realised I didn’t have anything to use as a staunch. I could have pulled off my jacket and used that, but it was soaking anyway, and covered in all manner of muck. And of course my hands were still cuffed together.
‘Keys. In pocket.’ Campbell didn’t so much nod her head in the direction as drop it in exhaustion. I hesitated, years of social conditioning fighting against me before I realised just how daft it was to be embarrassed at this point. Her jacket pocket was surprisingly deep and contained all manner of interesting things. Latex gloves, a mobile phone, a handful of plastic ties and a couple of Fox’s Glacier Mints that had obviously been jostling around with everything else for a while. And finally, right at the bottom with the lint, a pair of tiny chrome keys. It had never occurred to me that handcuff keys were universal, but these ones seemed to both fit the lock and work. My wrists were cut and bruised, blood caked on my hands and shirt cuffs, but it felt wonderful to be able to move my arms properly. Right up until I tried to flex my shoulders.
‘First aid. In car.’ Campbell managed to point a wavering finger past the Jaguar to where her little blue Peugeot was parked. I hurried over, paused momentarily to marvel at the ingenuity that had gone into defacing it, and retrieved the substantial red and white plastic box that was lurking under the driver’s seat.
‘We need to get you to a hospital,’ I said as I did my best to run a bandage round her torso without causing her too much pain. Or touching her breasts.
‘Backup’s on its way. Least it should be.’ She flopped her hands at her side, trying to get something out of her pocket. ‘Stupid phones don’t work out here.’
‘You want to wait?’ I didn’t stop for an answer. There was no point trying to drive the Jaguar, and I couldn’t easily get the Peugeot close, but my sister’s Range Rover was still in the shed. A quick check of my pockets revealed the keys where I’d put them; well, there’s a first time for everything. So I’d get blood all over the seats. I reckoned after all the shit they’d dropped me in, the least thing the police could do was pay for a professional valet.
I backed the beast out of the shed, getting it as close as I could to where Campbell was sitting, propped up against the ruined wall of the cottage. I hurried around the Jaguar, stepping over Jonas’ dead body, trying not to look too hard at the pool of dark blood soaking into the ground around him. He was dead, Mr Crisp was dead. I needed to help the living.
Before I could get more than a few paces, I was distracted by a noise like a lion roaring in pain. I had a moment to see a look of horrified panic appear on Campbell’s face, just enough time to turn to see what she was looking at, then an all too familiar fist slammed into my face.
In all the excitement, I’d forgotten Jonno, but he obviously hadn’t forgotten me. How he’d survived the explosion I’ve no idea, but then I’ve no idea how Mr Crisp had either. His clothes were in rags, blistering skin showing through the rips and tears. All his hair had burned away, along with half of his face, and one eye seeped a horrible yellow liquid, stuck in a sightless stare while the other moved around independently.
The first blow had caught me side on, but it was still enough to collapse my legs out from underneath me. Before I’d even hit the ground, the big man kicked out, his boot connecting with my cracked ribs. I swear I heard something go pop, and hot knives of pain stabbed into my chest. I coughed, and tasted the warm salt tang of blood . Tried to struggle to my feet, but all the strength had gone out of me.
‘Shoulda killed you that first time, little fucker.’ Jonno reached down and grabbed me by the front of my jacket. ‘Nothing but bad fucking luck, you are.’
I was lifted to my feet, the knives still stabbing at my chest. It was difficult to breathe and I couldn’t focus on anything but the massive fist, pulled back behind Jonno’s head and ready to meet my face again. I didn’t think I could survive another one of those.
And then the side of his head erupted in a mess of brain and blood. For an instant, I could see a look of surprise in his one remaining eye, but then it faded to nothing. His mouth fell open, a gobbet of blood and sputum dribbling between his lips. The grip on my jacket released, his fist still poised behind him. Jonno slid to his knees, then fell sideways, leaving a dent in the door of the Range Rover, a smear down the shiny paintwork.
Only then did my mind register the shot. I looked around to see Campbell, clutching the gun two-handed, staring wide-eyed at what she’d done.
‘Good shot.’ I coughed. It was either that or shake uncontrollably.
‘Fuck,’ she said. ‘I was aiming for his body.’
Getting Campbell into the Range Rover wasn’t much fun for either of us. My chest hurt like someone had been using it as a punch-bag, surprisingly enough, and she barely had the strength to stand. What should have been the work of moments took the best part of ten minutes, but finally we were ready to go. There was still no sign of the promised back-up, but little we could do about it. No mobile signal for miles, and the only landline nearby was buried under tonnes of rubble.
‘You know the way to the nearest hospital?’ I steered the twisty path between potholes, grateful for my sister’s ostentatious choice of vehicle. Campbell slumped in the plush leather passenger’s seat. Sweat beaded on her forehead and matted her hair, but she was holding her head a little higher. A tiny dot of red marred the perfect white bandage wrapped around her shoulder, but it was nothing compared to what she had been bleeding.
‘Keep going downhill ‘til you reach the river.’ Her voice sounded stronger too. ‘Follow that to Aberystwyth. If I’m still awake, I’ll tell you how to get to Bronglais when we’re a bit nearer.’
I winced as we hit a bump just before the gateway onto the tarmac road, little daggers of pain spiking through my chest. In my mind I was drowning in my own blood, lungs punctured by ribs fractured beyond the skill of modern medicine to repair. In reality, I was probably just bruised, but I felt like shit.
‘Why’d you come here?’ Campbell asked as we picked up speed. ‘To Tim’s cottage, I mean. He gave you something, didn’t he.’
‘It was an envelope.’ I put my hand in my pocket, feeling for the torn paper, but it was gone.
‘Thought so. What was in it, computer password?’
‘Nope. Nothing at all. Just the name and address on the outside. There wasn’t even a stamp. Stupid, really. I’ve been carrying it around the whole time and thought it was something my boss had asked me to post for her.’
Campbell frowned, tried to flex her shoulder and then winced as that didn’t work. ‘There was nothing in the envelope at all? Why’d you come here then?’
‘I couldn’t think of anything else to do.’
I gripped the steering wheel tight as a wave of pain left me weak. I’d not driven an automatic much before, but I was grateful then not to have to bother with a clutch pedal and gear changes. Everything hurt, even my eyes. Campbell was obviously suffering too, but she kept scanning the road up ahead, no doubt looking for the promised back-up. We drove like that for perhaps a mile, and then suddenly she shouted. ‘Stop!’
I slammed on the brakes, and immediately wished I hadn’t. The seatbelt snapped into my ribs like a series of well-aimed sledgehammers. Beside me, Campbell screamed in pain as her wounded shoulder was flung forward, then again as we came to a halt and she slumped back. For a while I couldn’t breathe properly, fought to clear my vision as we sat in the middle of the road.
‘Jesus. What was that for?’ I asked. Campbell took her time answering, her breath coming in short gasps as she fought down the pain, tears streaming from her eyes.
‘Farm track. Twenty feet back. Go down.’
It didn’t occur to me to ask why. I just reversed badly back the way we had come until I saw the opening. It didn’t look a lot better than the track up to Prowett’s cottage, but at least I could see the farmhouse.
‘You sure about this?’
‘Yeah. Drive. Should be a phone. And post.’
I did as I was told, trying my best not to hit too many potholes. A couple of mangy sheepdogs trotted up to the car as I stopped in a small courtyard formed by the farmhouse and two low stone barns.
There didn’t seem to be anyone about, but when I opened the door to two enquiring noses, a loud whistle rang out from somewhere, followed by some unintelligible shout. The dogs shot off towards the nearest of the barns, from which emerged a stocky man who looked like he’d been hewn from the same rock that the buildings were made of. The same rock as the mountains all around. He wore a pair of scruffy overalls, calf-length rubber boots and a battered flat cap, and cast his eyes over the Range Rover with a look of disdain. I half fell out of the driver’s seat, and had to catch myself on the door as my legs threatened to collapse from underneath me, but he ignored me anyway, striding up to the passenger side, where Campbell had wound down the window.
‘Jesus, Elinor. What happened to you?’
‘Got myself shot, didn’t I.’
‘Daft bint. I suppose it was you blew up the old Prowett place, too.’
‘No, that was my friend Sam.’ Campbell nodded in my direction, and the farmer looked over.
‘Give me a hand here lad. We need to get her inside. Dress that wound properly.’
I started to protest that I wasn’t exactly in the best of shapes myself, but realised that I might as well have argued with one of the dogs for all the good it would do me. I’d like to say that together we carried Campbell into the house and laid her out on the sofa, but in truth I mostly got in the way. The farmer left us, muttering something about going to get his first aid kit.
‘He called you Elinor.’ It was a dumb thing to say, but when I’d heard the name something had clicked in my mind.
‘That’s because it’s my name.’
‘I didn’t know. Only it makes sense now, as much as anything makes sense. Prowett said something to me, back in the park, before, well.’ I pictured the scene in my mind. It felt like a lifetime ago, had it really only been three days?
‘At the time I couldn’t make it out. It was too quick, and there was so much noise. But I think he said “Elinor”. I guess that was his last word.’
The farmer came back in carrying a stout wooden box and a small parcel. He sat both down on a table by the door.
‘Just seen a bunch of your mates hurrying up the road. You want me to give them a call?’
‘Let me see what you’ve got in that first aid box of yours first, Wyn.’
‘Standard battlefield med-kit. Should have something for a gunshot wound in here.’ Wyn opened up the box, started lifting out bandages and phials, lining them up on the table. ‘I take it Tim’s not coming home, then.’
‘He’s dead.’ Campbell said it as if she had only just come to terms with the fact. I knew how she felt. Wyn’s shoulders fell. I didn’t need to ask why he had military grade medical supplies; it was obvious he was a soldier. I wondered whether Prowett had been too. Maybe they’d served together. Or just grown up in this remote place as friends
‘Then I guess this is for you. Postman always brings his letters here.’ Wyn picked up the parcel, offered it to Campbell. She nodded towards me.
‘I think Sam ought to open it.’
If Wyn thought this an odd request, he didn’t say so, just handed over the packet. I looked at the neat handwriting on the front, familiar from the envelope that was probably floating at the bottom of the well, or buried under the rubble of the house to which both were addressed. It was a small padded bag, and inside it, wrapped in a compliments slip for a company I’d never heard of, lay a tiny memory stick.
— The End —