Praise for Stephen Leather
‘The sort of book that could easily take up a complete weekend – and be time really well spent . . . A story that’s as topical as today’s headlines’
Bolton Evening News
‘Very complicated. Fun’
The Birthday Girl
‘Action and scalpel-sharp suspense’
‘Terrifying, fast-moving and exciting thriller’
‘A whirlwind of action, suspense and vivid excitement’
The Long Shot
‘Consolidates Leather’s position in the top rank of thriller writers. An ingenious plot, plenty of action and solid, believable characters – wrapped up in taut snappy prose that grabs your attention by the throat . . . A top notch thriller which whips the reader along at breakneck speed’
The Double Tap
‘Masterful plotting . . . rapid-fire prose’
‘One of the most breathlessly exciting thrillers around . . . puts [Leather] in the frame to take over Jack Higgins’s mantle’
Peterborough Evening Telegraph
‘A fine tale, brilliantly told – excitement which is brilliantly orchestrated’
‘The plot blasts along faster than a speeding bullet’
‘The book has all the ingredients for a successful blockbuster’
‘If you feel a sleepless night coming on, here’s something to help you meet it head on; Stephen Leather’s fifth thriller. His last was praised by Jack Higgins who couldn’t put it down. The same goes for this’
‘Will leave you breathless’
‘Plenty of visceral excitements’
‘A gripping story sped along by admirable, uncluttered prose.’
‘An up-to-date story of intercontinental crime . . . fast-moving, lots of atmosphere’
Mail on Sunday
‘Excitement is guaranteed’
‘A pretty impressive debut . . . sharp and economical . . . a pacey read’
About the author
Stephen Leather was a journalist for more than ten years on newspapers such as
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 than ten languages and
have been filmed for television. He has also written for Television shows such as London’s Burning, The Knock and BBC’s Murder in Mind series. Stephen Leather now lives in Dublin. You can visit his website at www.stephen leather.com
Also by Stephen Leather and published by Coronet
The Long Shot
The Birthday Girl
The Double Tap
The Solitary Man
The Tunnel Rats
HODDER & STOUGHTON
Copyright © Stephen Leather 1992
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.
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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 867 3
Book ISBN 0 340 67224 2
Hodder and Stoughton
A division of Hodder Headline
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
The door opened with no sound on well-oiled brass hinges. Two men and a girl came in on tiptoe like students on a Rag Week stunt. The girl was dressed in a nurse’s uniform, starched white with a pocket over her right breast, and white shoes. On her head was a white cap and she carried a small, black leather bag. She was barely five feet tall, but perfectly in proportion, so that standing alone and from a distance it was hard to judge her height. But with a man either side of her in the gloom it was obvious that she was petite, far too small to ever be a model but pretty enough to break hearts.
She moved over to the bottom of the bed and beckoned the men to move to either side. They wore dark business suits, but they wore them badly as if unused to the feel of heavy cloth and long sleeves. While the girl had the soft, well-cared-for skin of a city creature, the men looked weather-beaten and worn as if they’d spent their lives in the fields. And while the girl looked as if she’d never had to lift anything heavier than a lipstick, the men were well-muscled and strong.
The girl gently placed her bag on the foot of the bed, close to the sleeping man’s feet and silently opened it. She nervously licked her upper lip, a quick showing of her small, pink tongue, and she took a deep breath, the soft mounds of her breasts pushing the uniform up. She nodded, once, and the two men moved at the same time to grab an arm each. The man on the left, the slightly smaller of the two, reached across and clamped a hand firmly across the sleeper’s mouth. He woke with a start and began kicking his legs up and down and twisting his shoulders, his eyes wide with fright and shock. He tried to scream, to force air out of his heaving chest, but the bitter-smelling hand muffled all sound except for a pig-like grunt, too quiet to be heard outside the room. He tried to thrash his head from side to side but the hand held him steady. He tried to bare his teeth to bite the flesh but the thumb was under his chin and painfully squeezing his mouth shut. The men, neither of whom he could see, pulled his arms to the side so that he lay crucified, rigidly held to the bed above the waist but still kicking his legs and grunting. They held him until his legs tired and the grunting stopped. The panic eased somewhat as he realized that they hadn’t hurt him. Maybe they just wanted to give him a message, didn’t want him to disturb the rest of the party. Perhaps if he lay quietly they’d move the hand and allow him to speak, perhaps they’d tell him what they wanted. He relaxed, let himself go loose to show that he wasn’t struggling anymore. But they kept his arms outstretched and the hand stayed where it was, forcing him to breathe noisily through his nostrils.
He became aware of the girl then. He could just make out the top of her head, the white cap and below it two oval-shaped eyes. He felt a weight press down on the bottom of the bed and then saw her face clearly as she climbed up and knelt down with her knees either side of his legs. She had high cheekbones and finely arched eyebrows, and she watched him with a look of quiet amusement. She was gorgeous, no doubt about it, and he couldn’t take his eyes off her pouting lips. Her tongue came out and she licked them, slowly and sensuously, like a cat, and began to move up his body, moving one knee at a time. It was a hot night and he was naked under the sheet and he could feel the coolness of her thighs through the cotton. She looked like a nurse, he thought, but what was a nurse doing in his room in the middle of the night and who were the men? For a wild moment he thought he might be in hospital, suffering from amnesia or something, or perhaps he’d had a breakdown. But he knew he was still in the Embassy compound, in the bed he’d occupied for the past three nights. He wasn’t in hospital and this wasn’t a dream.
She reached his thighs and settled back, nestling her firm buttocks on his knees. Her lips drew back in a teasing smile and he saw white even teeth and behind them her small pointed tongue. Her ears had no lobes, he noticed, and her skin was flawless. She wasn’t flat-chested like many Chinese girls, he could see the swell of her breasts under the white dress. His gaze wandered down the line of studs on the front of her dress, down between her breasts to her lap. The dress had ridden up her thighs and he could see her knees by squinting his eyes. Then he saw the hypodermic in her hand and he froze. It began to move upwards and he watched it like a rabbit hypnotized by a snake. The girl held it in front of her face, needle upwards. In her other hand she held a small vial, containing a colourless liquid, which she pushed onto the needle and extracted fluid from.
The man groaned and began to buck up and down and rock from side to side. The girl gripped him tightly with her thighs as if riding a horse, then she slid up his body until she was sitting on his groin. The dress rode higher up her legs and he caught a glimpse of suspenders and white lace panties. She finished filling the syringe and then popped the empty vial into her breast pocket. The man felt himself grow hard under the sheet, and the girl felt it too. She pressed down against him and smiled, enjoying the feel of his maleness, so close to her, just a sheet separating them. She reached down between her thighs and stroked him, just once. To tease him. Then she removed her hand and tapped the glass with a long, red-painted fingernail and watched the bubbles closely as they rose to the top, under the needle. She gently squeezed the plunger at the bottom, creating a miniature fountain that played over her hands.
The man panicked then, he thrust up and down, trying with all his might to throw her off. He shook his head violently from side to side, eyes rolling with fear, but the hand round his mouth tightened and locked him still. Her cap fell off and black hair tumbled down over her face and across her shoulders, a solid curtain of blackness. She flicked it back and it cascaded around her face. He tried rolling his hips but she just gripped him tighter and moved with him. She reached forward with her left hand and ran her fingertips down his cheek.
‘I’m not going to hurt you. I promise,’ she said in unaccented English that took him by surprise. He began to sob quietly but lay still, and then she leant forward and injected the contents of the hypodermic into his right arm. Tears rolled down his cheeks and trickled along the side of the hand that kept his mouth clamped shut. She put the empty hypodermic on the bed and he felt a coldness travel up his arm, like pins and needles. She moved forward, placed her hands on the pillow, and kissed him softly on the forehead. He caught the fragrance of jasmine and then it hit his heart and his chest exploded in pain and he died, no sound because his jaw was still locked tight.
The girl shuddered, either with pleasure or relief, and then slid off the bed, gathering up the hypodermic and replacing it in the bag. The men arranged the dead man’s arms under the sheet, and then the three left the room as silently as they’d entered just three minutes earlier.
Sunday was a hell of a funny day to be summoned down to Suffolk to see your boss’s boss, but it wasn’t the sort of invitation that Donaldson could turn down. In fact invitation was the wrong word, he’d been ordered down by Grey, even though the order had come in a very obtuse form. Grey was his normal soft-spoken self on the phone, but there had been no doubt in Donaldson’s mind that something was worrying the man.
When Donaldson took the call his first thought had been that he was about to be sacked, that the latest round of positive vetting had uncovered his little secret. He’d been careful to cover his tracks and whenever he met others who shared his tastes he’d used a false name, but these days you could never be sure; it was always a risk. And perhaps it was the possibility of being caught that added to the excitement. But Grey had simply said that he’d needed his help and that it was something that had to be dealt with out of the office.
He’d been given quite a complicated set of instructions to follow to reach the house and once he’d left the main road he’d had to stop a couple of times to read the scribble he’d jotted down on the back of an internal memo. It had rained for a while, which hadn’t helped. It was the height of summer but the weather owed more to November. It was almost chilly, and had been for the best part of a week. A freak north wind, said the forecasters. Bloody typical, thought Donaldson.