Authors: Bill Kitson
DI Mike Nash 
When you take an ordinary man and train him to kill, he becomes
dangerous. When his mind is clouded by drugs, he becomes unstable. When
he loses everything he loves, he becomes a lethal killing machine.
Mike Nash investigates a suspicious house fire, the bizarre murder of a
young drug addict and the disappearance of a scientist's daughter. When
animal right activists lay siege to a laboratory that is later
destroyed, Nash and his colleagues are almost overwhelmed by the upsurge
in violence. Their enquiries point to a man with a burning desire for
revenge. But is he responsible? Or, are more sinister forces at work?
Nash has to penetrate a cloak of secrecy to establish the truth.
Wife, lover, best friend, critic and editor
My grateful thanks to the following friends and professionals who contributed their expertise to help me in the writing of
Peter Billingsley MD, for his information and advice on the subject of drugs.
Judy and Arnold Smith for allowing me to nosey around their motorhome and ask awkward questions about wild camping whilst eating all Judy’s cheese scones.
John Hale and his staff for their continued support (and patience).
My ‘in-house’ proofreader, copy-editor and continuity girl, Val, whose input is far greater than she will take credit for.
And to Derek Colligan whose cover for
scared me – and I wrote it!
The village clung precariously to the mountainside. In the distance the plains shimmered in the hot sun. Above the cluster of houses four men were lying uncomfortably behind a screen of rocks. As they surveyed the village below, one shifted restlessly. ‘As soon as the light starts to fade, we move. Catch them as they’re thinking about dinner. Take the guards out and be in the middle of them before they realize it.’
‘I thought our orders were to use this as a recon. Only engage the enemy if we encounter them.’
‘We have encountered them. And out here, I give the orders. If I say we attack, that’s what we do.’ The others remained silent, so the officer spoke again, his voice taking on a slightly higher pitch. Was that tension, having his orders challenged or the effects of the drug? ‘If anyone refuses, that classes as battlefield cowardice. No arguments!’
The others watched him walk away. ‘Bloody spooks.’ Johnny spat in the dust. ‘They’re all the same. Why we got hooked up with one in the first place beats me. There’s over a hundred rag-heads against four of us. He may want a posthumous medal, but I don’t. What do you say? Barry, Steve, you going along with that dickhead?’
Steve replied first. ‘I’m not happy about it. But it might save scores of lives if we can take them out.’
‘Steve’s got a point,’ Barry agreed. ‘I know Smithy’s idea sounds crazy, and I take your point about the odds, but we can cut that with the element of surprise.’
‘I’m still not happy about it,’ Johnny grumbled.
‘Go on with you,’ Steve teased. ‘You just don’t want to get blood on your nice clean shirt.’
After three weeks without washing facilities, their faces tanned by the relentless sun, permanently dust-streaked and with sweat constantly oozing from every pore, they stank like the goats that surrounded them.
Sundown came early in those latitudes especially at that time of year. Shortly after 4.30 p.m. they began their assault on the village. By 5.15 p.m. the firefight was over. The four-man unit had succeeded in reducing the enemy forces to less than half their original strength; but had lost two of their own in the process. Barry and Steve, approaching from the south, had done most damage, getting three-quarters of the way through the village before they encountered any opposition. As Steve got to the northern outskirts he saw Barry take out three men with semi-automatic rifles, one of whom was about to fire on Steve. He turned to thank his colleague when he saw Barry stumble, fall to his knees and throw his head back, before pitching full length on the dusty street.
Steve checked for a pulse but knew by the wounds it was hopeless. He glanced around. The opposition had scattered. That assault had been their final throw. He raced out from behind the last houses to see his commanding officer despatching two more of the escaping enemy. They joined forces. ‘Time to go,’ Smithy said tersely. ‘Where’s Barry?’
‘Bought it; died where he fell. What about Johnny?’
‘Took one in the chest on the way in. Let’s get out of here. I’m going up to that ridge to radio for a chopper. You stay here and cover my back.’ The officer put his hand on Steve’s shoulder. ‘I couldn’t ask for anyone better.’
Smithy had been gone no more than two minutes when Steve spotted a cloud of flies hovering over Johnny’s corpse, first of a long queue of diners. He moved closer to say goodbye, to shoo the flies away; he wasn’t really sure which. As he rounded the boulders near the body a shot whistled close to his ear. He ducked behind the nearest rock and waited.
Smithy whirled round as he heard the burst of fire behind
him. He paused so briefly, he barely broke stride. Then he continued; eyes fixed on the ridge ahead. He glanced back only once. He could just make out that Steve had taken cover and was still firing. Then the gathering darkness reduced visibility. After a moment or two, the firing ceased. The night was silent.
‘Morning, ma’am,’ DI Mike Nash greeted the chief constable as he entered her office at Netherdale Police Station.
She smiled. ‘Mike, let me introduce you.’ She indicated her visitor, a good-looking woman in her mid thirties. ‘This is Superintendent Edwards. She’s here short term until Superintendent Pratt is fit to return to work. He’s recovering well from the heart attack, so in three months Ruth will take up her new post with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary; so you’d better behave yourself.’
‘Don’t I always, ma’am?’ Nash affected a look of injured innocence as he shook hands with the newcomer.
‘I hope you don’t expect an honest answer to that,’ Chief Constable O’Donnell retorted.
When Nash returned to his office at Helmsdale later that morning, DS Clara Mironova was waiting in the CID suite.
‘What’s matter?’ Nash asked. ‘No crime to solve?’
‘I wanted to know what the new boss was like.’
‘She seems very nice. Quite young for a Superintendent’ – Nash kept a straight face – ‘and far better looking than Tom Pratt.’
‘Is Tom not coming back then?’
‘Eventually. Ruth’s only here until he’s fit again.’
‘So we’re on first name terms already are we? Is she married?’
‘I don’t think so, why do you ask?’
‘I wonder what Becky will think of you having an attractive single boss around the place.’
‘I don’t think she’ll be at all worried.’
‘What’s that mean? That you’re not going to tell her?’
‘Of course I will. If, and when, the subject comes up.’
‘Speaking of Becky, I suppose you and she will be spending Christmas together?’
Nash caught the wistful tone in Clara’s voice. ‘No, as a matter of fact we won’t. Becky’s going to visit her parents. They retired to Bournemouth and she promised she’d spend Christmas with them. Why do you ask?’
‘I was hoping to get a bit of leave. David will be home for a few days and I want to see him before he goes back. It’ll be his last overseas tour, at least for the foreseeable future, so I don’t want to miss him.’
‘That should work out fine.’ Nash saw Clara’s face relax. ‘As I’m not doing anything special I might as well be on call. Viv can back me up; I doubt he’ll be visiting his family in Antigua for Christmas. At least I won’t be covering Netherdale as well now Ruth’s on board.’
‘Aren’t you planning any holiday?’
‘I might take a break after Tom gets back. Becky’s trying to persuade me to go skiing, but I don’t fancy sliding down an Alp on my backside.’
Mironova grinned. ‘I’d have thought the après-ski would be right up your street?’
‘Becky’s a serious skier. She’s been going since she was small and she’s pretty good. I can’t hope to compete with that. And I’m not into that après-ski scene.’
‘Too old I suppose. A shame that. I’d have loved to see the photos. Don’t you even fancy tobogganing? You can do that lying down; your favourite position.’
‘Go make coffee, Sergeant. And try not to make it taste like snake venom for once.’
The house was like all the others in the row. Semi-detached, built during the 1950s, with economy as the overriding principle. The contractor had enthusiastically taken the instructions from the Ministry of Defence on board. Materials were the cheapest,
appliances purely functional. Even the plot size was minimal. Profits were the only item that hadn’t been cut to the bone.
It was one of the coldest nights of the winter, with temperatures well below freezing point. Bereft of adequate insulation the house was like an icebox; the central heating had been on the blink for months. It was scheduled to be replaced in spring. Reluctantly, but with two young children to keep warm, the housewife turned to the back-up heating. The gas fires were old, but at least they worked. She wasn’t happy about leaving them on all night, especially as they hadn’t been serviced for over twelve months, but realized she’d no choice. Anyway, the workmen would be coming to do them tomorrow.
She wished her husband was home. Steve was good with his hands. He could fix things. He’d have sorted the heating out. But he was thousands of miles away; she’d no idea how far. He wouldn’t have gone if it hadn’t been for the money. Or lack of it. That, and the argument. The row had been about money; what else. ‘I can’t manage on what we’ve got. How do you think I’ll cope with an extra mouth to feed and no money coming in? You’ll be out of work and all the bills still to pay? This place may not be up to much but at least we don’t have the rent to fork out. That’d change. And all we’d have is family allowance, and a bit of money from the Social.’
Of course he’d stormed off; gone to the pub. Next morning he was up and out of the house before she woke. By the time she was dressing he’d signed on for another tour. This time it wasn’t cushy. Not Gibraltar or Falklands. Not Germany. This time it was the big one. The one all the wives feared. This time it was Afghanistan. Afghanistan. Even the name struck fear into her heart, as it did with all the wives. Not knowing. That was the worst. News bulletins didn’t help. “A British soldier has been killed….” Her heart lurched every time she heard the words.
A few months ago they’d lost one; Sonya’s husband, from across the road. Too close for comfort. She’d seen Sonya’s light on at all hours of the night. Could only guess at what she was feeling. Apart from the grief there was the worry. The MOD widow’s pension wouldn’t go far. The widow’s mite they called
it. And Sonya was what, twenty-eight and with three youngsters under seven. Sometimes she worried because she daren’t face Sonya; still didn’t know what to say to her. What do you say? What can you say? ‘Sorry, Sonya, some bastard with an RPG has blown the rest of your life to hell and back?’ You can’t say it, even if you’re thinking it: even if it’s the truth. So you stick with meaningless platitudes.
She poured another glass of wine. It was late. Both children would be fast asleep by now. She sipped the wine as she watched TV. When the reality show ended, she drained her glass, switched the TV off. Everything done, she yawned, time for bed. Strange that doing nothing should make you so weary.
Somewhere in the early hours one of the children started to cough. In an instant, she was awake; listening. She waited for a repeat. When it didn’t come she drifted back off to sleep.
The workmen arrived late. It was almost 9 a.m. when they pulled up outside the house. They rang the bell. Getting no reply they hammered on the door; still nothing. One of them went round the back. He reappeared a few minutes later, shaking his head.
‘Can I help?’
They turned. The neighbour was young, young and pretty. ‘We can’t raise the lady of the house,’ the younger workman explained. ‘We’re here to service her’ – he paused, leered – ‘appliances.’
The neighbour ignored the innuendo. ‘She must be in. That’s her car.’
The older workman stepped back and looked up at the bedroom windows. The curtains were still closed. Despite that, he thought he’d caught a glimpse of something glinting in the weak morning sunlight: condensation.
He’d been in the job a lot of years; realized what the condensation meant. ‘Oh no,’ he muttered. ‘Stu, come here, quick.’
The tent was hot, dusty and uncomfortable. Unable to knock, the signals officer coughed. ‘Excuse me, sir. Message from HQ.’
The colonel looked up. His signals officer, usually phlegmatic,
looked distressed. ‘What is it?’
He listened as the man gave him the gist. ‘Oh God. Poor devil. How the hell do you tell a man that sort of thing? You never think of something like that happening, more the other way round. Better bring him in here.’
They were back in less than ten minutes. Not long enough for the officer to rehearse what he had to say. The man knew something was wrong; knew before the officer spoke; knew by the look on his face. Even if he hadn’t known, the CO’s opening words would have given the game away.
‘Come in, Steve.’
‘Where’s Captain Smith?’ Steve asked.
‘Major Smith,’ the colonel corrected him. ‘Transferred back to Military Intelligence and promoted; all to do with that effort of yours last month. Now, you’d better take a seat. I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you. Very bad news.’
Memories and sadness, memories and guilt, memories and anger; they were all he had left. If it hadn’t been for the row it would never have happened. He wouldn’t have been here in this godforsaken hellhole. That was why he’d volunteered; agreed to go on their special assignment.
If they’d been able to afford it he wouldn’t have come. If he hadn’t been away, they wouldn’t be dead. The ‘ifs’ swirled round and round in his brain, like loose ball bearings in a pinball machine. And all the time his guilt, his anger and his grief fused together like a hard knot in the pit of his stomach. He remembered his words at the time. ‘If all I’m good for is a pay cheque, I might as well sign on again. That way you’ll have less food to buy.’
He’d seen the hurt look on her face, ignored it. So busy with his own pride he hadn’t attempted to console her. Just slammed out of the house and gone to the pub. He’d signed up again next morning, gone for the MAD assignment they’d been punting at the barracks. No one knew what it was about, but you had to be highly qualified before they’d consider you.
The officer he’d reported to was specific. Outlined what was
needed. ‘Special forces training, sniper grade, para qualified. Those are minimum requirements.’
‘I’ve got those, sir. And my BELT.’
Behind enemy lines training it stood for. Hadn’t had to use it in anger, but obviously worth mentioning because the officer said immediately, ‘If you’ve got those, I reckon you stand a good chance of getting selected.’
‘Can I ask what this assignment involves, sir?’
‘Of course you can. Just don’t hold your breath for a reply.’
That had been over eighteen months ago. Since then everything had changed. And now this.
He sat alongside the airstrip, a dusty, barren landscape bisected by the thin ribbon of tarmac. Waiting; waiting for his transport. Transport to home; that wasn’t home any longer. To England, suddenly more desolate than this place. To England, and a new mission: revenge. Revenge on those who’d brought this about. He thought about Smith and his anger doubled. Promoted; he’d almost blurted it out in the colonel’s tent. Promoted, for shooting one of his men in the back. Because Steve knew that’s what had happened. Smith, crazed by the drug, had shot Johnny in the back for objecting to his orders. Not only that, he’d left Steve to die out there. Smith must have thought he was safe. He’d have got a hell of a shock when Steve came out of the desert. Was that the real reason Smith had been transferred?
They were here to protect the nation. That’s what they were told. Protect the nation against terrorism. And because he was here, he was unable to protect his own wife, his own daughters. Protect them against what he knew was little short of murder. Well, if it was murder they wanted, they’d come to the right man.