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Authors: Jim Eldridge

The Lethal Target

BOOK: The Lethal Target
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To Lynne, for ever



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31





Also by Jim Eldridge


The scream echoed through the tunnel and into the cellar room. A man, screaming in fear. Then suddenly the scream was cut off.

The two men in the cellar didn’t react; they were concentrating on the equipment on a small metal table: a hypodermic needle and a series of glass phials containing some sort of liquid. The cellar was old, the sandstone and brick walls almost black with age. A metal bed frame had been screwed to the floor. No mattress, just the frame, with thick wire acting as crude springs. Iron manacles dangled from the bars at its head and foot.

The door of the cellar opened and two uniformed men entered, their uniforms army khaki, black jackboots on their feet shining dully in the half-light. Between them they held a naked man. A strip of thick grey tape had been fixed across his mouth to stop him screaming any more. The man looked towards the metal bed frame in the centre of the cellar. He tried to pull back, his eyes bulging with fear, sweat pouring down his face, his bare feet kicking out; but the grip of the men who held him was too strong.

‘Put him on it,’ said one of the watching men in Russian.

The two uniformed men dragged the prisoner towards the bed frame and pushed him down on to the wire springs. One sat on him, stopping him from moving, while the other fixed the manacles to his wrists and ankles. Then they stepped back.

The man on the bed began to buck and twist, pulling desperately at the manacles, his actions tearing open the skin of his wrists and ankles as they rubbed against the iron.

The man in command picked up the hypodermic needle from the table. He inserted it into one of the glass phials through the opening at the top and drew some of the liquid into the syringe.

‘Hold him,’ he ordered the two uniformed men, again in Russian. They moved to the bed frame and pressed their combined weight down on the struggling prisoner, holding him firmly in place. The man pushed the needle deep into the thigh of the hostage and slowly pushed the plunger down until the syringe was empty. Then he stepped back and nodded to the two men, who instantly released their hold on the prisoner.

The two soldiers retreated to the cellar door, where they stood and waited. All four men kept their eyes on the hostage chained to the bed frame.

One minute passed, then two, then three. Suddenly wisps of smoke began to appear from the pores in the man’s skin, tiny at first, then getting denser. The man struggled, his eyes wide in a mixture of pain and fear, his body arching and thrashing. Then a gush of smoke escaped from his nostrils. Smoke was pouring out of the man, through his skin, his scalp, his feet, his arms . . .

There was a sudden silent explosion, intense white flames bursting out through the smoke, coming from inside the man, and the next second the figure on the bed was a heaving mass of fire, the heat and glare making the watching men recoil.

Almost as suddenly as the fire had begun, it stopped, and there was just a cloud of oily smoke, while ashes fell through the bed frame’s wire springs to the cellar floor. All that remained of the captive was the hands and feet, still enclosed in the iron manacles, the whites of the bones visible through the scorched flesh.

The other man by the table, who had been silent so far, shook his head.

‘The reaction was too slow,’ he said in English. ‘We need the book.’

‘Our people are looking for it as we speak,’ replied the other. He looked at the smouldering pile of ashes and burnt bone. ‘This one was too big. I believe the excess fat under his skin caused the slow reaction time.’ He nodded thoughtfully, then called an order to the men by the door. ‘Bring in the young woman!’ To the man next to him, he growled: ‘Her flesh should burn faster.’

Chapter 1

Jake was worried; very worried. He walked around the supermarket, filling up his trolley with his week’s supplies, moving on automatic pilot. All he could think of was Lauren. It had been five days since he’d last spoken to her, and that had been by phone, not even Skype, so he hadn’t had the chance to see how she looked. She’d sounded odd. Nervous. He knew she couldn’t say why, their conversations were monitored by the intelligence services, but usually they found a way to drop a hint if something was worrying one of them, so they could read between the lines, put together the clues in texts and phone calls. But this last time, no hint, just an awareness in Jake that something was troubling Lauren. And since that last phone call, nothing. No texts, no emails, no phone calls, no letters.

It was at times like this he felt the distance between them: her in New Zealand and him in London.

The previous night, when it was daytime in New Zealand, he’d even phoned the place where she worked, the Antarctic Survey Research Centre in Wellington, in case something had happened to her, a serious accident, and she wasn’t able to make contact with him. But the woman he’d spoken to had said Samantha Adams (Lauren’s cover name in New Zealand) hadn’t been in to work for four days, and they hadn’t heard from her, which was very unusual.

They’d been in touch with Lauren’s flatmate, a young woman called Kristal, who said that Lauren had told her she was going away for a day or so, and not to worry. So she hadn’t. But since the Survey Research Centre had got in touch, Kristal had contacted the local police and hospitals to see if there had been any reports of an unidentified young woman having been in an accident; but there had been nothing.

‘We’re very worried about her,’ the woman told Jake. ‘This is so unlike her. If you hear from her, would you ask her to get in touch with us?’

Jake promised he would. Just as he was about to ring off, the woman asked him if Samantha had any Russian connections.

‘Russian connections?’ Jake frowned.

‘It’s just that on the last day she was in the office she had a call from someone, and the switchboard operator was fairly sure the person was Russian.’

‘A man or a woman?’

‘A man.’

A Russian? Jake was puzzled. Lauren had never mentioned knowing any Russians. But then it had been five months since they’d last seen one another. Anything could have happened in that time. What was clear was that Lauren seemed to have vanished suddenly, and without trace . . .

I have to go to New Zealand, decided Jake. Maybe someone had got hold of her and was holding her prisoner.

His mobile beeped to let him know he had a text. He opened it, and read:
L needs your help
, followed by a phone number.

His heart leapt. Lauren! But why wasn’t she phoning — why text?

He checked the screen for the number that had called him, but was told it was ‘number withheld’. Which didn’t make sense, as whoever had texted him had given him a phone number. It was an 01680 area code, and he had no idea where that was.

He tapped out the number. It rang for a few seconds, and then a woman’s voice with a soft Scottish accent said: ‘Craigmount Guest House.’

‘Hi,’ said Jake. ‘My name’s Jake Wells. I had a message to call this number.’

‘Oh yes, Mr Wells,’ said the woman. ‘Miss Cooper told us to expect your call. We’ve sent you an email with our address and how to get here. Do you know when you’ll be arriving?’

‘Er . . .’ Jake was too taken aback to reply immediately. Arriving? Why? Then he remembered the message:
L needs your help.

‘Where are you?’ he asked.

‘Not far from Craignure,’ said the woman. ‘If the email hasn’t arrived, just call and we’ll send it again.’

‘I mean, where are you, specifically?’ asked Jake. ‘Southern England, northern, Wales . . .’

‘The Isle of Mull,’ said the woman, sounding a little surprised. ‘Scotland.’

‘Oh yes, of course,’ lied Jake. ‘I’m sorry, I was getting confused.’

The Isle of Mull? Jake recalled an obscure press release from his time as a press officer at the Department of Science mentioning Mull. It was one of the Hebridean islands off the west coast of Scotland. How long would it take him to get there?

‘I should be arriving sometime tomorrow,’ he said, making a guess.

‘Check the ferry times from Oban,’ said the woman. ‘We’ve included them in the email. Will you be coming by car or as a foot passenger? I ask because we can arrange to meet you if you let us know which ferry you’ll be coming on.’

‘I’ll be driving,’ said Jake. Then, as an afterthought, he added: ‘Is Miss Cooper there? Could I talk to her?’

‘I’m afraid she’s out at the moment,’ said the woman.

‘Perhaps you could get her to call me when she comes in,’ asked Jake.

‘I’m very sorry, Miss Cooper left instructions she can’t receive or make phone calls,’ said the woman, and Jake noted the genuine note of apology in her voice as she said it.

Why? wondered Jake.

‘No problem,’ he said.

‘In that case, we look forward to seeing you tomorrow,’ said the woman.

Jake hung up.

In the two months since he’d been sacked from the department he’d had time on his hands, so he’d learnt to drive. It hadn’t been as hard as he’d thought. He didn’t yet have a car of his own, but he could hire one. He wondered if it would be better to hire one here in London and drive all the way to Mull, or catch a train and hire one when he got to . . . where was it the woman had said? Oban.

He’d check it out as soon as he got home, once he’d looked at the email.

L needs your help.
But the woman he’d spoken to on Mull hadn’t sounded as if there was a panic situation. But who was this Miss Cooper?

He looked at the items in his trolley: food, snacks, milk, washing-up liquid. Well, I won’t be needing any of these if I’m going to be in Scotland, he thought. He dumped the trolley at the end of an aisle, and headed home. The sooner he was on his way to Mull, the better.

He was relieved to find the email from Craigmount Guest House in his inbox, with details of where the guest house was on the southern part of the island, and links to the ferry operator’s timetable of sailings. Within an hour he had his journey north arranged. By tomorrow afternoon he’d be talking to this mysterious Miss Cooper face to face.

He was packing for the trip when his phone beeped. It was a text:
Don’t go to Mull.

Chapter 2

Jake stared at the text.

Don’t go to Mull.

Who’d sent it? And why? There was no clue. Whoever had texted him had made sure their own number stayed secret.

It has to be something to do with MI5, reasoned Jake. He knew his phone and his computer were kept under surveillance. That had been the case ever since Lauren had been sent to exile in New Zealand. So they would have been hacking in and learnt about Mull. There was no one else he could think of that would be bothered. It had been a long while since he’d had any contact with Pierce Randall, the dubious but wealthy international law firm, over the hidden books. And they’d already double-crossed him twice, so they were unlikely to be in contact with him. No, it had to be MI5 warning him off. But why?

BOOK: The Lethal Target
12.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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