Authors: Scott Mariani
Tags: #Adventure, #Mystery, #Crime, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Contemporary
But the old man’s will hadn’t specified that his son, the new Laird of the manor, couldn’t just bung the offensive lot in a skip. And Kirby planned to do exactly that. He just hadn’t got around to it in the months since he’d inherited this rambling pile.
He dumped his briefcase in the passage, walked through to the kitchen and made himself a mug of instant decaf. Carrying the thin brown liquid through to the only one of the manor’s many reception rooms that he ever used, he gazed out of the window across the overgrown lawns behind the house. Beyond a stone wall and a row of trees, he could see the derelict agricultural buildings in the background. The place had been a working farm once but, ever since the old man had got frail and sick, everything had fallen into decay. Abandoned stacks of hay bales were mouldering and turning black in the rusty barn. And the slurry pit was sure to be attracting rats. It was becoming a health hazard. He’d have to tear the whole lot down.
That was Kirby’s last thought before he sensed a presence behind him and spun around in surprise to see two men striding fast towards him across the room. Two guns in his face. He dropped his coffee and let out a short scream. Fell to his knees.
Neither man spoke a word as they grabbed his arms, hauled him roughly to his feet and marched him out of the room and down the passage. He struggled and pleaded. ‘What do you want with me?’ As they frogmarched him across the hall, he glanced up and saw with a shock of horror that there was an empty space where one of the Gurkha knives had hung.
Oh Christ, they’re going to cut my head off.
‘What are you going to do to me?’ he screamed.
They ignored him and dragged him out of the front door. There was a white Suzuki mini-van sitting parked on the gravel outside. The back doors were open. The men shoved him towards it.
‘Where are you taking me?’
All the strength had left Kirby’s legs and he was shaking with pure terror as they bundled him into the back. He slid across the bare metal floor, tried to scramble to his feet and whacked his head against the low roof. The doors slammed shut. There were no windows. Kirby was suddenly in darkness.
The kidnappers walked around the van’s sides to the cab, pulled open their doors and climbed in. They spent a moment making their pistols safe and securing them inside the tactical concealment holsters they were both wearing under their jackets. They didn’t speak, but shared the quiet satisfaction of a job cleanly and quickly executed. Now it was time to get out of here and deliver the package to the place outside Glasgow that their cell used as a safehouse. Neither man had any clear idea of the purpose of this job-they only knew that a call had come in from overseas the night before, and it was from someone their bosses obeyed instantly. It had also been put in no uncertain terms to them that to mess this up would mean severe punishment.
The driver twisted the key.
Nothing happened. The van was stone dead.
‘Fuck,’ he said in Arabic.
‘What’s wrong with it? It was fine a minute ago,’ said the man in the passenger seat.
The driver muttered another curse, reached down below the dash and yanked on the bonnet release mechanism. There was a dull clunk and the bonnet popped free of its catch and opened half an inch. He kicked open his door, jumped down from the van and walked around to the front.
The passenger watched through the windscreen as his colleague lifted the bonnet and disappeared behind it. He heard some noises, then nothing. He stuck his head out of the window. ‘Hurry the fuck up,’ he yelled in Arabic. ‘We’ve got to get moving.’
The bonnet crashed down with a clang that shook the van. The passenger looked, expecting to see his colleague wiping his hands and giving the thumbs-up-
OK, sorted, let’s roll.
But there was nobody there.
He frowned, opened his door, climbed down. His footsteps crunched on the gravel as he walked around the front wing. He looked down and saw the driver’s legs sticking out as though he were lying on his back to work on the underside of the van.
‘Hey, what the fuck are you doing down there?’
But then he saw the legs give a violent, spasmodic twitch.
And he saw the blood that was pooling outwards from under the van and across the gravel.
After that, he saw nothing more.
Ben cut the man’s throat in a swift sawing motion, stepped aside to avoid the blood spray and let the body slump to the ground. He laid the long, curved knife on the gravel between the two dead men and quickly checked them for any kind of ID. As he’d expected, there was nothing-but the moment he’d seen the van arrive and the two Middle Eastern guys get out, he’d known who had sent them. Kamal must have found the phone number in the blazer pocket and followed the same trail he had.
There was a frenzied thumping and yelling coming from the back of the van. Ben walked around to the rear doors and opened them.
Kirby looked crazed and dishevelled. ‘It’s
What are you doing here?’
‘Just dropped by for a chat,’ Ben said. ‘I was about to talk to you, when I saw you had company. Decided to hang back and see what happened.’
‘Who the hell are you?’
‘Right now, under the circumstances, I’d say I’m the best friend you have in the world,’ Ben said. ‘Ready to trust me yet?’
Kirby lowered himself gingerly out of the back of the van and froze when he saw the two bodies. He put his hands to his face. ‘Oh, my God. You
‘You’re right. Maybe I should have just reasoned with them. I’m sure we could have worked something out.’
‘What’s going on here?’ Kirby gasped.
‘You know perfectly well what’s going on,’ Ben said. ‘Your secret’s out, and everybody wants a piece. What did you think was going to happen?’
‘I’m calling the police.’ Kirby started staggering towards the house.
Ben stopped him. ‘Not if you want to stay alive.’
‘You call the police, I’m out of here. Then, when these guys don’t phone in or turn up, more are going to come. Sooner or later, they’ll get you, take you away, interrogate you and probably torture you to death. There’s nothing the police can do to prevent it. If that’s what you want, go and dial 999, and I’ll say goodbye.’
Kirby’s shoulders slumped helplessly. ‘All right. Obviously I don’t want that. So what am I going to do?’
‘First you’re going to tell me where there’s a tool-shed with a wheelbarrow in it. And then you’re going to help me carry these bodies over to the slurry pit over there, where nobody’s ever going to go looking for them.’
It took less than ten minutes to make the two kidnappers vanish. A concrete lane led from the side of the manor to the dilapidated farm buildings two hundred yards away beyond the trees, and Ben used the creaky old barrow that Kirby found for him to roll them one at a time to the edge of the slurry pit.
At twenty yards, the stink of putrescent liquid dung was noxious. At ten it was overwhelming, and very few people would have got closer than five. Ben held his breath as he kicked back the bolts on the hatches and opened them up to reveal the filth underneath. He rolled one corpse in with his foot, then the other. Two brown splashes, a stream of bubbles as the slurry filled their lungs, and they were gone. The next time anyone saw them, there would be nothing but bones left. Nature was efficient that way. Ben tossed the bloody Kukhri knife in after them, slammed the hatches shut, slid the bolts home and moved away quickly towards cleaner air.
Kirby was waiting for him beside the old hay barn, looking deeply perturbed and shaken. ‘Now what?’
‘Now let’s get out of here,’ Ben said. ‘My car, not yours.’
He led Kirby to where he’d parked the
behind the trees, out of sight of the manor.
‘I feel sick,’ Kirby moaned as he settled into the car.
Ben fired up the engine and the acceleration pressed them hard back in their seats as the car sped up the road. The countryside was open and the roads were quiet. He didn’t know where he was going-he just wanted to put distance between them and the house before finding somewhere they could talk. He drove fast along the winding coast road, between green fields dotted with sheep and spring lambs, drystone walls, little white cottages and farmhouses here and there in the distance. The sun was beginning to sink lower in the sky, casting a reddish glow over the sea.
‘Do you have to drive so fast?’ Kirby complained.
‘We’ve got to talk, Kirby.’
‘Stop the car,’ Kirby muttered in a strangled voice. Ben snatched a glance away from the road ahead and saw that the historian was deathly pale, slumped over in his seat, both hands pressed against his sternum.
‘I’m going to puke.’
Ben hit the brakes and pulled over onto a grassy verge. Kirby’s door was swinging open as they rolled to a halt. He staggered out across the verge and leaned against a fencepost. Bent over double, he clutched his stomach and threw up violently.
Ben let him get on with it for a minute or two, then got out of the car and walked over to join him. ‘It’s just stress,’ he said. ‘You’ve had a shock. Can we talk now?’
‘I need some air,’ Kirby muttered. ‘I’m going for a walk.’
On the other side of the road, a little rocky path led downwards towards the shoreline. Kirby set off down it, and Ben followed. Minutes were passing. Minutes he couldn’t afford to lose. He was thousands of miles from where he needed to be, and getting nowhere. He could only hope this guy was worth the effort.
Kirby paused by a big rock and took several deep breaths. ‘Oh, Christ.’ He ran trembling fingers down his face. ‘How did I get into this? Those people, back there. Did they kill Morgan?’
‘It’s complicated. I don’t have time to go into every detail.’
‘I need to know.’
Ben let out a sigh. ‘I suppose you’re entitled to an explanation.’ He ran quickly through what had happened. About the robbery, about Kamal, about Harry Paxton. But it was a simplified version in one major respect. There was no reason why anyone needed to know about Zara.
you?’ Kirby asked, amazed.
Ben nodded. ‘Someone close to me stands to get hurt if I don’t retrieve whatever it is you and Morgan found. I’m on the clock. Can you help me, or not?’
‘It’s unbelievable,’ Kirby said. ‘Morgan always regretted having let on to his father about the discovery. He knew the old bastard was too interested in it for comfort.’
‘Now it’s your turn to talk,’ Ben said. ‘What’s the connection between you and Morgan? What’s this about?’
‘Morgan was my friend,’ Kirby muttered. ‘We were at university together. We went back a long way.’
‘So this was a joint project. You were in it together.’
‘It was Morgan’s brainchild, but we were both working on it. I was going to join him in Cairo. But then I heard about what happened. I’ve been crapping myself ever since. Just waiting for them to come after me.’ He looked up. ‘How did you know where to find me?’
‘I told you. Your number was scribbled on a piece of paper in Morgan’s pocket.’
‘Damn,’ Kirby said. ‘When Morgan went to Egypt, I was in the middle of moving here from Lancaster Uni. This is a new job for me. I called him on his mobile to tell him about my new number. He must have jotted it down on the first thing that came to hand.’
‘Fine. Now tell me what you know.’
‘I need a drink,’ Kirby said. ‘There’s a pub another mile up this road. Get me a drink, and I’ll tell you everything.’
The road twisted downwards until they came to a coastal village. A cobbled street led to a harbour where small fishing vessels drifted and bumped on the tide, flanked on three sides by an ancient stone dock and a rocky beach. Lobster creels and salt-crusted nets lay piled on the pier, and in the falling dusk the lights from the huddled cottages on the sea front threw a golden, shimmering glow out across the water.
Ben parked the car and he and Kirby walked down a cobbled slope to a long, low pub with a weathered sign that said ‘The Whey Pat’. Inside, the décor looked as though it hadn’t been touched in centuries. A pitted old bar, some spartan benches and a couple of bare tables. No paper napkins or place mats on the tables, no chalkboard menus on the wall, just a well-used dartboard for the men who came in here to drink and nothing else. Ben wouldn’t have been surprised to see sawdust on the floor.
There were a few locals at the bar. The hum of conversation paused a beat as Ben and Kirby walked in, and one or two stares landed on Kirby before people looked away and the chatter picked up again.
‘Seems you’re popular round here,’ Ben said as he guided Kirby towards the empty far end of the pub. They grabbed a table near the fire, where a couple of logs were crackling and spitting. Ben went over to the bar and ordered two double Scotches. He didn’t know if Kirby drank whisky normally, and he didn’t care. If the guy wanted a drink, he was going to get him one that would loosen him up as fast as possible. There wasn’t much time to mess about, and beer was just too slow. He took a fistful of change from his pocket and fed it into the CD jukebox in the corner, selecting a bunch of noisy rock tracks that would allow them to talk without being overheard.
Back at the table, he slid Kirby’s glass over to him. He took out his Zippo and his last few Gauloises, and lit one up.
‘You can’t do that in here,’ Kirby said. ‘It’s illegal.’
Ben glanced up towards the bar. It wasn’t the kind of establishment where anyone seemed to give a damn, and he didn’t care if they did. ‘So is murder,’ he said. ‘And you’ve got two dead bodies at your place. Now drink that and start talking. The Akhenaten Project. Facts, figures, details, the works. Now.’
Kirby peered down at the glass, looked as if he were about to complain, then thought better of it. He picked it up, closed his eyes and knocked it back like medicine. When he put his glass down, his face had lost some of its pallor. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
‘Backstory first,’ he said. ‘You need it, to understand the rest.’