Part One: A Year Later
Epilogue: Eight months later
About the Author
Simon Kernick is one of Britain’s most exciting thriller writers. He arrived on the crime writing scene with his highly acclaimed debut novel The Business of Dying, the story of a corrupt cop moonlighting as a hitman. Simon’s big breakthrough came with his novel Relentless which was the biggest selling thriller of 2007. His most recent crime thrillers include Siege, Ultimatum, Stay Alive and The Final Minute. He is also the author of the bestselling three-part serial thrillers Dead Man’s Gift and One By One.
Simon talks both on and off the record to members of the Counter Terrorism Command and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, so he gets to hear first hand what actually happens in the dark and murky underbelly of UK crime.
Also available by Simon Kernick
The Business of Dying
The Murder Exchange
The Crime Trade
A Good Day to Die
The Last 10 Seconds
Wrong Time, Wrong Place
The Final Minute
The Bone Field
The Hanged Man
Dean Man’s Gift and Other Stories
We Can See You
Hugh Manning awoke from his dream screaming into the silence.
His eyes shot open. He couldn’t breathe, his scream suddenly a muffled whine. Panic shot through him as he realized there was a hand covering his mouth and nose. He tried to struggle in the darkness and then a face he recognized loomed into view, leaning in close to him.
‘Don’t speak. Don’t breathe. Stay absolutely still,’ hissed DC Liane Patrick.
Manning knew instantly that his enemies were here for him. Deep down, he’d always known they’d come. In the end, they were simply too powerful, and had too much to lose ever to let him tell the world what he knew. What terrified him so much now, though, was the speed with which it had happened. He’d barely been in the police safehouse three days, had yet to be officially questioned by officers from the National Crime Agency, and already his cover was blown.
‘Get up very quietly, and do everything I say,’ continued Patrick.
Manning nodded. He was dressed in a sweatshirt and tracksuit bottoms. They’d told him to wear clothes in bed, just in case he had to be moved fast. His babysitters, DC Patrick and her colleague DC Lomu, were both hard and professional, and, most importantly, armed the whole time. There were always at least two other armed officers on duty as well, one at the back of the house, one at the front, and security cameras covered every floor, as well as the perimeter. These were administered 24/7 by staff at the headquarters of the National Crime Agency, supposedly Britain’s answer to the FBI.
And yet, it seemed that somehow the defences had been breached.
Patrick removed her gloved hand from Manning’s mouth and stepped away to give him room to get out of the bed. He moved as silently as he could, noticing that she had her gun drawn and was looking towards the bedroom door, as if someone might come through it at any moment. But there was no noise in the house. Nothing.
Outside, somewhere in the night, an owl hooted in the woods. Manning looked at his watch. 3.10 a.m.
He pulled on the pair of trainers next to the bed and stood up quickly.
Patrick put a hand on his shoulder and came in close. ‘There’s someone in the house,’ she whispered, her voice barely audible in the silence. ‘We need to get you out of here. Do everything I say, and you’ll be fine. Understood?’
‘Where are the others?’ Manning hissed, feeling his heart hammering in his chest.
There was a pause. ‘I don’t know. No more speaking. Follow me.’
Why weren’t the alarms going off? Manning wondered. And why was there no sound of sirens? Apparently, there were also sensors lining the perimeter that would pick up any sign of an intruder and automatically set off alarms in the house, as well as at NCA HQ, and Northampton police station, five miles away, where a dedicated armed response unit was on call.
But he knew better than to ask any more questions. He trusted DC Patrick. She’d given him her full background when she’d first arrived. Five years in military intelligence, followed by ten years’ service in the police, seven of them as an armed protection officer. She had three commendations for bravery, was a champion sharp shooter, and even had a karate black belt. If anyone was going to get him out of here, it was her.
Manning’s bedroom was at the top of the house. The window had been boarded up to prevent entry from the outside. It made the room stuffy on a warm summer night. It also meant you couldn’t go out that way. Instead, they would have to take the official escape route, which meant going outside into the hallway.
DC Patrick crept over to the door, put her ear to it, then very slowly turned the handle, motioning for him to get behind her.
Manning pressed himself against the wall, his heart continuing to pound as DC Patrick pulled the door open and put her head round it. It was hard to believe that once again his life was in danger. For years, he’d lived the upper-middle-class dream. A beautiful Georgian townhouse in fashionable Bayswater; long-haul holidays with first-class flights and boutique hotels; a loyal wife and plenty of girlfriends. He might have been doing work for some extremely insalubrious characters, but it had been easy enough to justify it to himself while sipping a pina colada on a beach in the Seychelles, and anyway, he’d just