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Authors: Stephen Leather

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Hot Blood

BOOK: Hot Blood
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‘A brilliant read’
News of the World
‘Authentic stuff’
Observer
‘Stephen Leather’s strongpoint has always been his ability to pitch his novels at a bang-up-to-the-minute level.
Hot Blood
is no exception. It will provide everything that lovers of contemporary action fiction could ask for.’
Yorkshire Post
‘There’s a new breed of British crime writer giving the genre a much-needed shake-up – Stephen Leather is at the forefront . . . the sheer impetus of his storytelling is damned hard to resist.’
Daily Express
‘Reading Stephen Leather at leisure is always a pleasure’
Ireland on Sunday
‘Leather is an intelligent thriller writer’
Daily Mail
‘Leather can dispense high-adrenaline plotting but never at the expense of remembering that his characters are humans rather than Action Man dolls . . . It’s Shepherd’s pungently drawn personality that makes him such a memorable hero’
Sunday Express
Also by Stephen Leather
Pay Off
The Fireman
Hungry Ghost
The Chinaman
The Vets
The Long Shot
The Birthday Girl
The Double Tap
The Solitary Man
The Tunnel Rats
The Bombmaker
The Stretch
Tango One
The Eyewitness
Spider Shepherd Thrillers
 
Hard Landing
Soft Target
Cold Kill
Dead Men
Live Fire
Rough Justice
Fair Game (July 2011)
Jack Nightingale Supernatural Thrillers
 
Nightfall
Midnight
To find out about these and future titles, visit
www.stephenleather.com
.
 
About the author
Stephen Leather was a journalist for more than ten years on newspapers such as
The Times
, the
Daily Mail
and the
South China Morning Post
in Hong Kong. Before that, he was employed as a biochemist for ICI, shovelled limestone in a quarry, worked as a baker, a petrol pump attendant, a barman, and worked for the Inland Revenue. He began writing full-time in 1992. His bestsellers have been translated into more that ten languages. You can find out more from his website,
www.stephenleather.com
.
HOT BLOOD
Stephen Leather
HODDER & STOUGHTON
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen Leather
The right of Stephen Leather to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
1
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
Epub ISBN 978 1 84456 853 6
Book ISBN 978 0 340 92169 2
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
A division of Hodder Headline
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
For Katy
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I am indebted to James (Jesse) Kibbee, Jr, for his insights into life in Baghdad, and for allowing me access to his journal which he wrote while he was working in Iraq. Linda Park and John Deykin were generous with their time showing me around Dubai. Alistair Cumming and David Southern helped me on police matters and on the mechanics of electronic tracking. Any errors of fact are mine and not theirs.
Denis O’Donoghue, Barbara Schmeling, Andrew Yates, Alex Bonham and Hazel Orme helped me get the manuscript into shape and Carolyn Mays was, as always, the best editor that a writer could wish for.
Johnny Lake pulled his legs up against his chest and slowly banged the back of his head against the wall. It was the fourteenth day, and on the fourteenth day they had said he would die. There were six men holding him hostage, but he only knew one of them by name. Kamil. Kamil was the leader of the group. His name meant ‘perfect’. He was the one who spoke to the video camera, in accented English. It was Kamil who waved a Kalashnikov and said that the Americans must leave Iraq and that if they didn’t Johnny would be killed. When he was in front of the camera, Kamil wore black-leather gloves and a black-wool ski mask with holes for his eyes and mouth. His companions wore masks, too, or had scarves tied round their faces. They said nothing whenever the camera was on, other than to chant ‘
Allahu Akbar
.’ God is great.
His captors weren’t aware that he knew what they planned to do with him. Johnny hadn’t let on that he spoke Arabic. He had studied the language for two years in Chicago and had spent a year in Dubai, then six months in Kuwait City before moving to Baghdad. He was fluent and could read and write the language, but from the moment he’d been forced into the back of a van at gunpoint he hadn’t said a word of Arabic. At first he figured that being able to eavesdrop on their conversations would give him an edge, but all it had done was to fill him with despair. Fourteen days was the deadline they’d set. Two weeks. Three hundred and thirty-six hours.
Johnny knew that there was no chance of Kamil’s demands being met. The coalition forces would stay in Iraq until the Iraqis were capable of governing themselves, and that day was a long way off. Kamil wasn’t stupid, and he’d know that, too. The posturing in front of the camera was for effect, nothing more. It was part of a process – a process that would lead to just one thing: Johnny’s death.
Johnny shivered. He wanted to bang on the door and beg Kamil for his life, but he had begged for the first two days and he knew there was nothing he could say that would change what was going to happen. Johnny had pleaded with Kamil. He’d told him that the stories he filed were always sympathetic to the people of Iraq and that the last two he’d written before his abduction had been about local politicians calling for the early withdrawal of the American troops and their replacement with United Nations peacekeepers.
Kamil had smiled sympathetically and had assured Johnny that nothing would happen to him and that in due course he’d be released. That was what he had said the first time he’d met Johnny. It had been five days after the abduction, and Johnny had been held at a different location each night, always hooded and always trussed up like a chicken. Kamil had been the first person to talk to him, the first person to treat him like a human being and not a piece of meat. But everything Kamil said to him was a lie.
Johnny had heard Kamil talking to his colleagues, and he’d understood every word that Kamil had said to the video-camera. Fourteen days. If the coalition forces did not start to withdraw from Iraq by the fourteenth day, it was the will of Allah that Johnny be killed. Fourteen days. And today was the fourteenth day.
Johnny had asked for a radio and newspapers but Kamil had said that that wasn’t possible. Johnny knew why. The media would report his capture, and the demands of his captors. Kamil had provided him with a paperback book, though.
The Da Vinci Code
. Johnny had always meant to read it, but had never had the time. Now he had nothing else to do in the basement, but try as he might he couldn’t concentrate on it. Kamil had brought in a travel chess set and they had played several games. Johnny was a reasonable player but he lost every time. All he could think about was the deadline, the deadline that would end with his death. It was impossible to concentrate on anything else.
Johnny knew that Kamil’s demands would not be met, but there was another option: money. Cold, hard cash. Johnny’s father had money. A lot of money. J. J. Lake was a property developer in Chicago and Johnny was sure his father would pay whatever ransom was necessary to get him released. It was all about money, Johnny knew. What had happened in Iraq was everything to do with money and virtually nothing to do with religion. If his captors were offered enough money they would release him. J. J. Lake knew people. He’d met Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump and politicians right across the country. He’d be calling in favours left, right and centre and pulling whatever strings needed pulling. That was the hope Johnny clung to. If anyone could save him, it was his father.
The newspapers he worked for would be doing their bit, too. So would the rest of the media. Johnny was a journalist and journalists looked after their own. They would put pressure on the government to act. Editorials would be written, questions would be asked, everything the authorities did or didn’t do would be scrutinised. They’d speak to sympathetic Muslims and get them to put pressure on the fundamentalists. Kamil wasn’t stupid. He’d realise there was nothing to be gained by killing Johnny. But if he released him, they’d show the world they could be merciful.
There were three loud bangs on the door. There was no handle on it, and no lock, just a peephole through which his captors could watch him. ‘Stand by the wall, please, Johnny,’ shouted Kamil.
Johnny got to his feet and did as he was told. Every time the door was opened, he had to stand by the far wall with his hands outstretched. Johnny knew it was so that he couldn’t catch them by surprise, but he didn’t know why they bothered. His captors had guns and Johnny wasn’t a fighter. They knew that. He was a journalist and hadn’t been in a fight since he’d left elementary school.
The visit was unexpected. It was early afternoon and he’d been fed two hours earlier. Kamil had brought him a paper plate filled with
kubbat burghul
, doughy shells of bulgar wheat wrapped round lightly spiced minced meat and onion. He’d shared the meal with Johnny and they’d talked about baseball. Kamil never discussed politics or what was happening in Iraq. Sport, movies and music were pretty much all he talked about. Small-talk. Idle chit-chat to wile away the time until they killed him.
The door opened. Kamil stood in the doorway with an orange jumpsuit. ‘We need another video,’ said Kamil, walking over to him. ‘We need to show that you are still alive.’ He held out the jumpsuit.
‘Okay,’ said Johnny, hesitantly. He lowered his arms but made no attempt to take the jumpsuit.
‘Do not worry, Johnny,’ said Kamil. ‘It is a video, nothing more.’
‘Has my father been in touch yet?’ asked Johnny.
Kamil shrugged. ‘I wouldn’t know if he had,’ he said. ‘We don’t talk to anybody.’
‘But if he’s trying to pay a ransom, how will they tell you?’
‘We’ll be told,’ said Kamil. He gestured at the jumpsuit. ‘Put it on, please.’
‘I don’t understand why I have to wear it.’
‘It shows we’re serious,’ said Kamil, patiently. ‘It’s theatre, Johnny. If they see you playing chess and smiling at the camera, no one is going to think you are really in danger.’ He pushed the jumpsuit gently against Johnny’s chest.
‘Am I?’ asked Johnny, quietly. ‘Am I in danger?’ He took the jumpsuit. It was the third time he’d been given it to wear. It was for effect, Kamil had said. He only had to put it on when they were making a video. The rest of the time he was free to wear his own clothes, although they had taken away his belt and shoes.
Kamil smiled. A big, easy smile. ‘You are a journalist. There’s no value in killing a journalist.’
‘Kamil, please, don’t kill me.’
‘Johnny, we’re not going to kill you. I swear. Now put on the jumpsuit.’
Johnny knew that Kamil was lying. He’d interviewed enough politicians and journalists to know when he was being lied to. And Kamil was lying.
‘Please, Kamil,’ said Johnny. ‘You don’t have to do this.’
‘It’s a video,’ said Kamil, avoiding Johnny’s eye. ‘Just a video.’ He turned away and spoke to his two companions. They nodded and pulled ski masks over their faces so that only their eyes were uncovered.
Johnny felt as if all the strength had drained from his limbs. He looked at the door. The only way out. But there were three of them and it was only in the movies that one man could outfight three. He felt tears sting his eyes and blinked them away. He took deep breaths, trying to quell the panic that was threatening to overwhelm him. He wanted to cry, to scream, to beg, to do whatever it took to save his life, but he knew there was nothing he could do.
BOOK: Hot Blood
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