Devil’s Due preview
This is for people who’d like to have a pre-editor (sorry Ms Whiplash) taste of the third book in The Angels’ Share series, the Devil’s Due.
‘I need more time.’
—‘Time is a luxury you’re running out of.’
—‘We must organize better. The Agency is—’
—‘You think the Agency is the only problem?’
—‘They cause most of the trouble in our European operation.’ Xavier leaned back, the dampening cloth of his shirt clammy against his skin.
—‘What about the other players? Cassanet, for instance?’
Xavier paused, thinking of the big man, ‘he’s Duncan’s French poodle. Eliminate Duncan and the poodle is brainless.’
—‘Duncan scares you.’
—Xavier mopped his forehead. ‘We have options for most problems.’
—‘He scares you.’
—‘Yes, yes, he scares me.’
—And a reliable agent is compromised.’
—‘He was unlucky.’
—‘Unlucky? And now he’s yet another risk.’
—‘They have him locked up in their building.’
—‘You bully your colleagues.’
—‘I only … only want the best results. I don’t mean to offend. I demand excellence.’ Perspiration ran down his face.
—‘We don’t need enemies inside our operation. There are plenty outside.’ The woman’s voice remained cold, single-paced, scary.
—‘They have complained?’
—‘We know your style.’
—He sensed expectation. ‘Perhaps I have been too aggressive.’
—‘Win them back. Get them involved. Less arrogance, more listening.’
—Relief. ‘Of course. Of course.’
—‘We expect you to consult, and that includes me.’ Her firm Yorkshire accent walloped him. ‘We’ll solve our problems together.’
—Xavier squeezed his eyes shut. ‘Of course, we will.’
—‘We are loyal, Xavier, we value your skills and commitment. Like all of us, you need to learn and grow. I don’t want to have another chat like this. Speak soon.’ She hung up.
—Xavier stabbed … and stabbed … and stabbed … and stabbed the notepad on his desk. The pen snapped with a crack. The paper looked like a macine-gunned car door. He groaned, rested his elbows on his knees, propped his head on the palms of his hands, and let out a deep sigh.
—After five minutes, he lifted his head, threw the broken pen in the bucket and settled into his seat. Duncan is a dead man. He made notes. Thirty minutes later, he picked up the phone.
‘Jeannie was due back an hour ago.’ Sam checked his watch. ‘It’s nearly 10.30.’
—Anxiety furrowed Karen’s face. ‘She is 14, darling, she needs to get out and meet boys.’
—‘Of course she does. She also needs to keep her word.’ Sam said.
—‘Didn’t you ever fail to come home on time?’
—‘More times than I care to admit. But I’m the parent now.’
—‘There, you see? Hypocrite.’ The brightness in her eyes warned him.
—The phone rang, he crossed the lounge and picked up. The carriage clock on the mantelpiece twirled in silence, winding up, and winding down, like their arguments. ‘Duncan.’ He listened, a slight smile on his face straightened and he looked into his wife’s eyes. ‘On my way.’
—‘What’s wrong?’ Karen said.
—‘They crossed the perimeter.’
—‘They need a little darkness for a cuddle.’
—‘Jeanie’s in a unique situation.’ Sam said. He left the room, returning moments later with his Colt 1911 and a shoulder rig. He worked the action, holstered and secured the gun. ‘I’ll find her.’
—Karen fixed weary eyes on him. ‘How long will this go on, Sam?’
—‘Not much longer love. We’re squeezing them. They’re unlikely to target kids. But I’m not taking chances.’ He nodded to her, adjusted his gun, went into the hall and lifted his leather jacket from its hook. Porch light off, he eased into the twilight pulling the garment on as he walked to a shed, under some trees, near the driveway.
* * *
A man stepped out to meet him. Karen contemplated their silhouettes. A dark car pulled up, Sam got in and the vehicle drew away.
—‘You guard the perimeter?’ Sam said.
—‘They went over the bridge, by the church?’
—‘Yes, followed the path, round the church and into the trees.’
—Sam nodded and fixed his gaze on the line of the track. He knew the terrain well. He remembered the walks with Barney and, for a moment, the intense pain of his loss, and a joyous dog’s killing. Bastards. ‘I’ll find them. Please drop me up there, by the bus stop.’
—‘Right, sir,’ they drove 200 metres beyond the crossing. As the car stopped, Sam leapt out and trotted up a narrow path between two cottages. Within ten seconds, in the descending twilight, he vanished.
Her iPhone’s old-fashioned ring tone freed Gemma Smythsone from a nightmare encounter involving a man in a balaclava and a tepid bath. She lurched forward in her chair. ‘Hello.’ Soaked with clammy sweat, her baggy T-shirt clung to her.
—‘We must talk.’
—‘Xavier? A bit late in the evening for you.’ His angry intake of breath made her feel more in control.
—‘Sorry to disturb you. We need to talk, in person.’
—‘You are in London. I’ll be over mid-morning.’
—‘So, we must meet in person, as soon as possible. I’ll check my diary.’
—‘In person, it’s very urgent and serious.’ His Belgian accent managed to sound mournful and beseeching.
—He didn’t start shouting. Unusual. ‘Where will you arrive?’ She sensed an arse-kicking, and enjoyed the thought.
—‘Around ten, I’ll confirm.’
—‘Someone will meet you. I’ll arrange a secure room.’
—‘Thank you, er, Gemma.’ He’d never called her Gemma before. Hmm. She ended the call.
The lane split the grounds of two houses, took a sharp left-hand bend, and straightened up. It entered a gravelled space along the length of a row of wooden garages. Sam walked between the second and third lock-up, keeping straight on where the path veered to the right, and up a slope.
—Within a few steps he stood on a little beach with fifteen metres of burbling, rock-strewn water between him and a near vertical bank. He stole across with no regard for wet feet. At the far side he grabbed the base of a sapling and swung his left foot up to a protruding rock. Sole planted, he thrust upwards building momentum and reaching high to grip an outcrop. One quick pull, feet gaining traction on small ledges and he surged to the top of the bank.
—In cover, he leant against a tree, and peered back. No sign of a follower.
—Easing himself past the trunk, he stepped on to the twisting and turning path which followed the stream all the way down to the Dark Esk. He enjoyed the buzz of activated muscle, calmed his breathing and crept down the path. In the gathering gloom he made for a stand of tall trees where he hoped to find his daughter. A quiet murmur of young voices carried to him, he half-smiled.
* * *
Sam closed in silence, and saw the pair whisper, kiss, hug and murmur some more. Their hands stroked and squeezed. He experienced a tinge of embarrassment …
—The romantic pair jumped as Dad materialized beside them. ‘You’re running a little late, Jeannie.’
—Jeanie checked her watch. ‘Oh, God, we lost track of time.’
—‘That’s for sure,’ Sam said, ‘time to go home.’
—‘My fault, Mr Duncan.’ Jeanie’s boyfriend said.
—‘Fair enough, Robbie, you head off and I’ll walk Jeanie back.’ Both young people were downcast in an instant, they hesitated. ‘Off you go, lad, there’s always tomorrow.’ Robbie turned, and, head down, walked off in the direction Sam came from. He’d be at the farm in about 15 minutes.
—Sam recognized the glint in his daughter’s eye. ‘We’re not usually late, Dad.’ Her angry whisper hissed in the gloom.
—‘I know, Jeannie, we’re not making anything of it.’
—‘Why can’t he walk me home?’
—‘The perimeter, silly.’
—‘We’re only a few hundred yards from the mill.’
—‘That could be the difference between life and death, Jeannie.’
—‘The perimeter is patrolled by people who protect us. Step outside it and you put us all in danger, and that includes Robbie. I explained this. I’m here to protect you.’
—‘You’re just playing cowboys and Indians.’ Teenage petulance increased in volume.
—‘I wish … then I wouldn’t have seen your uncle Fuss in hospital yesterday.’
—What started as an angry in-breath ended as a sob. ‘Sorry, Dad, I love him too.’
—‘Let’s get back, love.’ They moved down the hill towards the main path by the river. Within five paces, a button taped to Sam’s upper arm delivered three silent buzzes. He grabbed Jeanie’s arm. ‘Shhh.’ He moved his lips close to her ear. ‘Maximum danger. Time to vanish. Let’s take the hedge line along the field. We’ll talk by the falls. Until then, quiet.’ She nodded. They moved away.
* * *
‘Dad. I’m stuck.’ Jeannie kept her voice low, but he heard her tension and pain. Sam explored where the barbed wire pierced her leg at the back of her knee, his touch as gentle as darkness allowed.
—‘Right, here we go.’ Half lifting her, hip to hip, he reached round and eased her off the barb. She hissed as the wire came out.
—‘That wasn’t so bad.’ Sam said.
—‘I’m okay.’ They moved on.
—Ten minutes later they sat on rocks by the waterfall halfway up the hill. Sam checked her injury. ‘You’re not leaking.’
—‘How do you know we’re in danger?’
—‘There’s a tiny receiver taped to my arm. It vibrates. Three buzzes means: utmost-get-the-fuck-out-of-there!’ Hilarity exploded between them in wheezing, whispery snickers. He’d never sworn with her before.
—‘Now what, Dad?’
—‘Plan to get home alive.’
‘Did something happen to you at our last meeting, Jack?’ The length of the pause surprised her.
—‘Yes. I was mugged in my room after you took my jet back to London.’ Jack Samson’s voice was stark, measured.
—‘I was attacked in my flat after I got back.’ Gemma paused, encouraged yet discomforted by the disclosure. The fear remembered like the smell of cigarette smoke. ‘It was an American.’
—‘My attacker was French.’ They were both silent.
—‘I wonder if we were all attacked.’
—‘Makes sense. Destabilizes us.’
—‘I’d like to destabilize Xavier.’
—‘Easy now, Gemma.’
—‘He’s a slimy toad and a bully.’
—‘But he’s not the enemy.’
—‘No. You’re right … Sorry, Jack.’
—‘Who are we up against?’
—‘Scary people, with the reach and ability to be there when we’re together, and attack us individually.’
—‘Is it that Duncan guy?’
—‘Might be. We have an eye on him.’
—‘We or Xavier.’
—‘Xavier has watchers.’
—‘We best have a chat with him.’
—‘Okay. He’s coming to see me in the morning. I’ll find out what he knows. I hope he’s had a frightening encounter too.’
—‘Nice thought … Find out what you can.’
—‘He’s trying to be pleasant, you know.’
—‘Yes, the bullying little bastard’s turned courteous.’
—‘Courteous you say?’ Jack barked out a laugh.
—‘Is he in trouble on our side after the American thing?.’
—‘He’s made some blunders. And he’s done some fine things. All in all, his account ‘s in credit.’
—‘I’ll call Justine and hear what she has to say.’
—‘I’ll brief Ken.’ Smysthone’s voice carried an audible smile.
He pressed his lips to her ear. ‘We’ll climb the fence by the straining post. Hunker-down until I’m beside you. When we’re ready, we’ll dash up the track to the main road, and left onto the Bridge.’
—Her breath tickled his ear as she whispered back. ‘Thank God. I’m tired of wading down the streams, Dad, and we’ve crawled along every hedge in the county.’ A heartfelt sigh welled up, ‘It’s tiring. Why couldn’t we make a run for it sooner?’
—‘Invisibility. We see dimly by the light of the moon. People with night-vision see much more.’ He rubbed her back. ‘Now you get your wish.’
—‘Some warm up.’ The humour in her tone made him smile. Morale good.
—‘Okay, over you go.’ He pushed her bottom up to help her climb the post’s angled support. Her hand scraped on a barb. She winced, yet remained silent. Sam squatted beside her. She sucked a finger. ‘How bad?’
—‘Sore. I’ll live.’ He gazed all around them with care. ‘What are you looking for, Dad?’
—‘Movement. Haven’t spotted anyone yet, but it’s hard to tell.’
—‘Take a chance?’
—‘We’ll have to.’
—‘Okay. When we get to the bridge, we’re heading for the right hand side. We’ll use the midway marker where it’s safe to drop into the big pool, like they do at the Summer Fair.’
—‘I know it.’ She said.
—‘Crawl all over the countryside and now jump in a bloody a river.’
—‘Romance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, my girl. Go!’ He slapped her backside. They jogged round the corner and up the track. He pulled back on her jacket to slow and direct her. They hugged the bridge wall.
* * *
A car passed from the north side, over the bridge, and turned south. The tail lights dwindled. Headlights coming up from the south became intense. ‘Eyes down.’ He said. The beams swept over the wall. The sound of the engine moved on, northwards, soon lost in the river noise. ‘Okay?’
—He pushed her forward. They raced across the bridge. The roar from the water removed the need for whispering. He found the marker and pulled her towards him, remembering his first jump from a plane. The less thinking time, the better. ‘Up you come.’
—The parapet was about two feet wide. He helped her slide over, holding her wrists tight. She let her right leg go down whilst her left knee and calf rested on the bridge. Her breath hissed in fear. ‘I’ve got you. Let your other leg dangle.’
—She dragged her knee off the bridge, with a little squeal, and hung from her father’s hands. ‘I’m okay.’
—‘That’s my girl.’ He leaned forward, belt buckle grinding on stone, forearms locked on the rugged surface, and held her clear of the wall. ‘I’m going to let you drop. Remember, knees bent when you hit the surface.’ Their eyes locked. ‘Swim clear, I’ll be right behind you.’ —Trust and love glowed from her gaze. Sam’s heart ached as he let her go, watching her pale face fall away to vanish in the gloom and roar of water.
—Sam put his knee on the marker. Gripped the edge of the stonework and pulled himself forward. His toe scraped free of the loose gravel as he swung his other leg up; mind preparing for the drop. As he turned to complete the move, a rough hand grabbed his collar and dragged him back towards the road. His mind screamed for Jeanie, as he tumbled backwards on to hard tarmac.