DEATH SQUAD

Death Squad - Danny Lancaster

"Great stuff with lots of bodice-ripping by bullet and basic instinct"

"Action aplenty. Great stuff, packed with thrills and spills"

Danny Lancaster is getting nowhere fast in the detective business but he’s convinced something will turn up.

It does, in the breathtaking shape of the widowed Countess Camilla D’Allessi.

But Camilla’s “simple” surveillance job leads Danny to a gruesome discovery at the remote Cornish farmhouse of music legend Mickey “Tattoo” Carpenter.

A young girl is dead from a drug overdose, another lies in a coma. Someone is out to take revenge on the dinosaur rock band Death Squad.

Suddenly Danny is wanted for murder. Only he can prove his innocence. And to do that he has got to stay out of a prison cell.

All he has going for him is supreme fitness and a talent to duck and dive.

Nothing will stop Danny hunting down the two murderous maniacs and their mystery backer for a final high-octane showdown of mud and fire.

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DEATH SQUAD

Foreword

FORT LAUDERDALE,FLORIDA

EDDIE Shapiro was obsessed with Cindy-Sue. She indulged his fantasies. She took him to the heights. Eddie had been with more women than he could remember. But Cindy-Sue was the real love of his life.

Ahead of them the air shimmered like oil above the baked black tarmac. She exhaled blue smoke. He could tell she was impatient. Cindy-Sue was hot. She was aching to go.

Eddie glanced to his left. Pamela looked tiny amid the great expanse of scorched ground, sheltering under a large straw stetson.

The designer T-shirt and spray-on jeans forced the eye to follow the curves of her body. She had this great liquid way of moving that glued your eyes to her butt.

Little Bobby, all freckles and a shock of blond hair falling across wide blue eyes, looked even smaller than his six years as he reached up to grip his mom’s hand.

Eddie often wondered why he had married Pamela. Sure, she was beautiful. Hell, what Playboy centrefold wasn’t? She was bright. She gave great head. She had the best breasts money could buy.

Back then, marriage had seemed the perfect thing, a union of her looks and his talent, the raucous mob of photographers jostling for angles as the smiling couple emerged from the white tent beneath the palm trees on the golden beach.

Eddie was convinced it was Pamela who had changed. Kids did strange things to a woman. But there was always Cindy-Sue. Eddie tightened his straps. As he gunned the throttle she strained against her wheel brakes.

The big cat growl of the V12 Packard Merlin engine gave him goose flesh as it powered the Mustang’s huge four-blade propeller into a blur.

She was a real beauty, a thoroughbred, 1,649 cubic inches of cylinder giving 1,510 brake horsepower, 437mph at 25,000 feet, six fifty-calibre Browning machineguns.

Cindy-Sue had flown with the 334th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group, 8th U.S. Army Air Force, from Debden,Essex,England, in 1944. Flown bomber escort over Nazi Germany. Real action. Real bullet holes.

Eddie had documented the aircraft’s complete history. He had photographs of her at Debden, even one taken in the air from a B17.

He just could never understand the way Pamela rolled her eyes, pulled that face, whenever he took down the leather-bound volumes of Cindy-Sue’s history, the way she bitched at the mention of her name. It wasn’t like it was another woman.

He’d only got them to the airfield today by persuading Pamela that Little Bobby needed some fresh air in his asthma-wracked lungs. Don’t want the kid living on drugs forever. Women, jeez.

From the corner of his eye Eddie saw Little Bobby give a hesitant wave. Pamela was clutching her hat to her head, a hazy shadow through the veil of dust and vibration thrown up by the P51’s prop wash.

The sleek silver fighter trembled as Eddie increased the engine power. He checked the dials one more time, engine temperature and oil pressure. It was like playing keyboards, all about harmony and timing. Then he released the brakes and they were away, surging down the runway.

As her wheels left the ground Eddie retracted Cindy-Sue’s landing gear and held her nose down as she picked up speed. Ahead to his left Eddie saw a bunch of turkey vultures circling some fresh roadkill by the I95.

Then he pulled back hard on the stick and sunlight flashed on the fighter’s slender silver wings as she soared upward into the blazing blue sky. The ground in his rear view mirror looked like one of Little Bobby’s model layouts, growing quickly smaller.

Eddie relished the pressure pushing him back into the bucket seat as Cindy-Sue soared up into the creamy air. The patchwork of greens and browns below him spread wider as they climbed. Away to Eddie’s left was the startling blue of the ocean stretching away to a curving horizon.

No more hassle, no more lawyers and contracts, no more unsmiling suits. Now it was just Eddie and Cindy-Sue riding the shimmering sky.

He eased out of the climb and levelled off, sweeping the Mustang into a series of gentle S turns as he scanned the dome of blue above through the big Perspex bubble of the canopy, searching for the Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs he knew were waiting to prey on the lumbering Fortress bombers under his protection.

He could see them clearly now, all around him, box formations of B17s stacked up through thousands of feet. Around them prowled knots of Mustang and Thunderbolt fighters, watching and waiting. Nothing would stop Eddie Shapiro getting these guys to Berlin and back.

He scanned the sky until his neck ached, holding a gloved thumb over the searing sun to search its outer glare. Beware of the Hun in the sun, that’s what the Brits used to say.

Then Eddie spotted them, tiny shark shapes coming at incredible speed. As they tore past he stood Cindy-Sue on her wingtip, hauled her round in a tight fighter turn and dived after them.

The engine screamed. The whole aircraft trembled as she plunged like a hawk. Sweat prickled down Eddie’s spine. This was better than sex.

He picked his opponent and manoeuvred for his shot. The SoB tried to jink away but Eddie was too fast for him. Then the Kraut tried a turn. Big mistake. Eddie pulled the nimble fighter inside his curve, chancing a sideways glance at the ailerons biting the air.

The vast dome of sky was clear and silent apart from Cindy-Sue’s screaming. But not for Eddie. He felt the judder of his guns, each of the six Brownings spitting 800 fifty calibre rounds a minute.

He smelled the smoke, saw bits break away from the desperate enemy. He fired again in his imagination and the squat black cross of the Focke-Wulf rolled on its back and spiralled down into its death dive. No ’chute. Another swastika to paint on the fuselage.

Eddie pulled up and graciously acknowledged the grateful wave from the pilot of a passing B17 struggling home with one engine out and chunks chewed from his big tail fin. Cindy-Sue began to climb and again Eddie scanned the hostile curve of the horizon.

Then he saw it and his heart constricted. Racing towards the bombers in a blur of speed 2,000 feet below him. An Me262. The first operational jet. The ultimate prize.

In his excitement Eddie messed up his turn and Cindy-Sue slewed sideways, her screaming engine protesting. Then they were in a howling dive, steeper than ever, exchanging height for speed to counter the jet’s superior performance.

When the first vibration came Eddie ran his eye over the instruments. Everything looked normal. Then it came again. Not the straining of speed but an uneven judder. Like something spinning out of balance. As if Cindy-Sue had shivered in pain.

The bang shook the whole airframe and Eddie bit his tongue. The salt taste of blood filled his antique oxygen mask. He throttled back and eased out of the dive. Something was wrong. Eddie turned gently homeward.

He had to get down fast. He was sweating hard under the Perspex canopy. It trickled from under his leather flying helmet and into his eyes.

The runway was ahead now, a long ribbon of spear-straight black tarmac in the heat haze, surrounded by the brown and grey of baked earth and bleached concrete.

He could see his Jeep parked by the old hangar. Pamela and Little Bobby were two specks, just where he had left them.

The vibration was worse now. Eddie clenched his teeth to stop them clashing together. He throttled right back and started to glide her in, prop windmilling, gently turning left and right to get a clear view forward and down beyond the big engine with its matt black anti-glare panel on top of the cowling.

Eddie tried to lower the landing gear. Nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing. He was too low to go around. For the first time real fear knotted his stomach.

He pulled back on the stick and trimmed Cindy-Sue, holding her just above stalling speed as she swept over the runway threshold. It was racing under him now, a blur of black like a fast flowing river. Eddie caught a glimpse of Little Bobby waving.

Pamela Shapiro Kennedy watched the Mustang’s descent. Eddie’s obsession bored the pants off her and she resented the place that stupid airplane occupied in his life.

She still loved him, sort of. He was Whirlwind, Mr Flying Fingers the keyboard guru. He had been a legend, private jets, limos, best tables in the top restaurants, and she still found that a turn-on.

But just lately she couldn’t stop her thoughts straying to the idea that he’d been on top before she was even born. It was more than 30 years ago, for chrissake.

Eddie was still a special person, still had that fire that had first drawn her to him. Only now it took Viagra to light it.

Pamela glanced up at the Mustang growing larger. It was unusual for Eddie to come back so soon.

She looked at her watch again. Marcello, her personal trainer, was due at the ranch in an hour and she didn’t want to be late. Eddie would be tinkering with Cindy-Sue’s engine for hours.

As the silver fighter swept low over the runway Pamela thought Eddie was taking it very gently. It struck her as strange because he loved to show off. Once he’d taken Little Bobby up in his lap and they’d had a ferocious fight over it.

Then Pamela saw the Mustang’s wheels were up and knew Eddie was going to make a low pass before pulling up hard and climbing away. He thought it surprised them but they’d seen it before, too many times.

Cindy-Sue drew level and Pamela could clearly see the leggy Blonde painted on the aircraft’s nose and the row of swastika combat victories beneath the cockpit.

Little Bobby pointed a pudgy finger: “Cadillac of the skies, mommy.”

She squeezed his hand. “That’s right, baby.” The bang startled her. She saw smoke spurt from the exhaust stubs and the propeller stopped dead. Cindy-Sue seemed to hesitate for a moment, then the big air scoop under the fuselage kissed the ground.

The shrieking of metal on tarmac sounded like death laughing. The silver fighter careered along the runway, trying to dig in its nose, shedding lumps of shredded wreckage. Sparks sprayed in her wake and then Cindy-Sue was riding a carpet of boiling flame that erupted like a poisonous flower from her underside as the ruptured tanks spewed blazing fuel. Black smoke with its core of orange fire swirled in the vortex of the crippled fighter’s wake.

Pamela flinched as the heat wave washed over them but she couldn’t tear her eyes away. Then she remembered Little Bobby. His grip on her hand was painful. She tried to turn his head away but he fought her.

Thick oily smoke washed across them, making the pair break into coughing. Cindy-Sue gave up the fight and shuddered to a halt two hundred yards away. It was then that the fire caught up with the petrol haemorrhaging from her broken tanks. With a sudden whoosh Cindy-Sue was swallowed in a writhing ball of hungry flame.

Pamela could see the dark silhouette of her husband in the cockpit through the rippling curtain of fire. His head was tilted down. He wasn’t moving. As she watched, the shape seemed to shrink and fade as it was absorbed by the inferno. Somewhere a fire truck siren wailed.

Little Bobby began to cry but his sobs were cut off by a savage bout of coughing as the stinking smoke bit into his tender lungs. His chubby body was wrenched with spasms as he tried to be brave like his dad always told him.

Pamela pressed his reliever into his mouth and put an arm round his shoulder, turning him gently but firmly towards the black RV with the dark windows and fat tyres that was parked by the hangar. This time Little Bobby didn’t resist.

As he sucked on his reliever, Pamela looked up and saw a bunch of turkey vultures flapping clumsily towards the rising column of black smoke.

She had a sudden image of the first time she had seen Eddie, dressed like some hero from Lord of the Rings as he exploded out of a cloud of dry ice and pounded his keyboards with the opening chords. Her stomach had trembled with the vibration as the stage burst into light and the guitars and the crowd roared.

Pamela tried to hold the image but it kept fading into one of her husband dissolving into a sheet of flame.

Her mind couldn’t grasp what had just happened. Eddie had been such a big part of her life for so long. Now she was alone, a rich rock widow.

She wondered if Marcello would be on time.

CHAPTER 1

It wasn’t my fault, it really, really wasn’t. I’m the blue sky guy, big canvas, broad brush strokes. It’s the minions who fill in the detail, that’s not my skill set.

I’m a businessman, the guy in charge, fingers in lots of pies. I can’t be expected to micromanage every trivial little detail.

If I was CEO of some major corporation, engineering or media or whatever, would I be expected to know every little dribble and fart of the business? Foresee every possible outcome?

That’s the sick thing about this country. Everyone propping up a bar or glued to the soaps on TV wants the jobs, the money, the security, the products and services. Yet those same people are only too happy to rubbish the guys who bring them all of that.

You don’t get to be an entrepreneur, build something up, by being touchy-feely. It’s a hard world. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

The rewards are high but so are the risks. And it’s entrepreneurs like me who take those risks, not the soap fans and the boozers with their comfy lives with their PAYE and package holidays.

Any idiot can have an opinion. But building something from nothing, something profitable, something successful, now that takes talent. You need guts, drive and vision to get off your backside and make it happen. You have to have a clearly defined goal and the ruthlessness to go forward and reach it.

And there will be broken eggshells. So, you see, it really, really wasn’t my fault.

***

BRIGHTON, MONDAY NIGHT

The creeping damp of the night air didn’t bother Danny Lancaster. It probed the folds of his jacket but he had grown hardened to cold over the years to a point where he hardly noticed any more.

It had been a lovely day but in the early evening a squall had blown in from the Channel and with it a cutting wind. It didn’t matter. You could get used to anything if you tried hard enough, or you had no other choice.

What Danny wanted was a cigarette but he dare not risk a light. The knowledge that he could not have one heightened the desire to spark up but he knew he could resist.

A stiff breeze, tinged with a tang of salt, muttered through the trees. Danny looked around carefully, eyes straining into the blackness. It was habit more than necessity. He wasn’t expecting trouble. Apart from the sounds of the night, everything was quiet.

Danny shifted slightly to ease the aching in his thighs. He had been crouched, motionless, for more than an hour and his body began to protest at the inactivity.

He often thought he was a little mad to get into these situations. But there was no harm in a little madness if it helped you through the day.

The wind whipped up suddenly and Danny scrunched down deeper inside his jacket, keeping a firm grip on the camera. It was a clunky old digital job with a heavy telephoto lens. Fingers crossed it would do the job.

The darkness around him seemed to move like a restless tide on the night wind as he studied the large, wooded garden. Somewhere nearby a car passed. Danny closed his eyes to preserve his night vision and grinned into the blackness.

Something would turn up, and soon. He looked at the luminous dial of the Rolex on his wrist, then pushed the strap back up his forearm, deeper into his sleeve, to avoid it catching the light.

Not long now. As if on cue, a car crept guiltily along the quiet street beyond the garden and edged nervously into a narrow space at the third attempt.

The driver’s door clunked shut. Danny heard the bleep of central locking. The car’s side lights blinked as if winking at the conspiracy.

Hesitant steps tip-tapped along the pavement, taking on a crunchy tone as the feet moved onto the gravel front path of the large Edwardian villa with its scattering of fallen pebbledash, like dandruff, on the surrounding flower beds.

Small feet, thought Danny. Is that good or bad for a ballroom dancer?

Somewhere a cat yowled. The breeze gusted, wafting the sour aroma of overflowing bins. The reluctant steps halted in the porch. The house was divided into eight small flats. Danny sensed bespectacled eyes peering at the bank of buzzers.

A doorbell bing-bonged. Danny craned to see what was happening. Fingers crossed this plan was going to work. He needed the money.

The old door with its stained glass panels groaned open. Danny heard a woman’s voice, husky with gin and Bensons. “Mr Smith, nice to see you again. Come on in.”

This is it, thought Danny. He ached for a cigarette, his tongue chasing round his teeth in search of a trace of a taste from the last one he’d smoked back in the van.

The seconds seemed to drag. If he’d guessed this wrong the night was a washout. He pulled up his sleeve and looked at his watch again, shaking his wrist to make sure the Rolex was actually ticking, relieved that Chinese engineering was still doing the business.

A window in front of him burst into light and Danny snapped his head away and closed his eyes again. Slowly he looked back, letting his vision get used to the new brightness and praying they wouldn’t shut the curtain.

Danny studied the room which was illuminated by a single naked bulb beyond yellowed net curtains. He was only 15 feet away but detail was important.

A women’s outline passed across the window. Danny caught a glimpse of piled peroxide curls and heavy foundation cracking around the eyes.

The walls of the room were covered with garish Sixties wallpaper varnished with a thick brown layer of nicotine. A poster of Elvis had fallen away at one corner where the Blu-tak had dried out. At one end of the room Danny could just make out a small gas cooker and an old cupboard, its open door revealing a jumble of packets and jars, Knorr soups, Marmite, Ovaltine, a big bottle of supermarket gin and a yellow plastic bottle of Jiff lemon juice.

An ancient TV sat on a large lace doily, varicosed wiring snaking up the wall behind it. The one concession to decoration was a small shelf of plates, ornaments and knickknacks that clung to the plasterboard wall on two metal brackets.

After a pause the woman crossed the window again and reached into the cupboard. She slipped a small roll of bank notes into an old tin tea caddy, took down the gin bottle and splashed a little into two tumblers, adding a squirt from the Jiff bottle before picking up the glasses and walking out of view. Danny was concerned by his line of sight. It was too narrow. It showed the domestic end of the bedsit, he needed the business end. There wasn’t much he could do about it now. Danny switched on the old camera, checked the speed and aperture settings and pushed the zoom until the window filled the viewfinder. He brought it up to his eye and snapped a picture just as the woman appeared again.

From the brief moment she had been in sight Danny could see she was wearing some sort of lacy wrap. She passed back across the window again, holding a single tumbler this time.

Danny could see they were talking. He guessed the man was sitting on the bed, out of view, and this worried him. The woman came to the window and pulled up the sash slightly, the screech of old wood loud in the quiet of the garden. She stood there looking out, her hand resting on the frame.

“It’s a bit breezy out tonight but I’ll leave it open for a bit to let the smoke clear, if that’s all right with you.”

Danny, invisible in the dark, heard a mumbled response. He remained still, praying she didn’t close the curtains. The woman turned her head away towards her guest and Danny took a picture. The camera clicked and beeped. The sound seemed too loud.

Then she turned away from the window and the wrap slipped from her shoulders. Beneath it she wore a black basque edged with red lace. Danny could see her suspender belt and the tops of her black seamed stockings biting into big thighs. Her large breasts, welling over the top of the basque, quivered as she took a step forward.

Danny grinned as he clicked away. The woman stepped towards the bed, out of Danny’s view. He swore under his breath and leaned forward but his balance started to go and he snatched himself back.

“Bugger!”

He turned to study his immediate surroundings. Six feet to his right was another vantage point that might just give him the angle he needed to see inside the bedsit. He cursed himself for not checking more thoroughly earlier.

Danny tightened the camera strap around his shoulders and edged sideways. He moved round till he faced his new perch and stood for a while, calculating the distance.

Then he jumped. Both feet landed cleanly but his momentum began to carry him forward. Danny instinctively threw his weight sideways and grabbed for support as he started to topple. He juddered to a breathless halt, camera pressed painfully into his chest.

Slowly, Danny eased himself up and let his breathing settle. “Silly sod,” he muttered as he fiddled with the camera. Everything seemed to be working. When he was satisfied he looked across to study the grimy bedsit window.

The woman was sitting on the edge of the bed, a large bottle of baby oil in one hand. Arthur Edward Wilson, a 56-year-old estate agent and former regional ballroom dance runner-up fromMilton Keynes, lay across her lap, his pink face, small dark eyes shiny with anticipation.

The sash window was still open and Danny could just hear the woman clucking her disapproval. “You know you’ve been naughty, don’t you?”

Wilsoncringed: “I didn’t mean to be, honestly.”

“You need to be taught a lesson.”

“I’m sorry,” said Arthur in his best little-boy voice.

“Not sorry enough, I’m afraid” said the woman sternly.

She raised the bottle and a stream of oil poured down onWilson’s bare bottom. His face beamed with bliss as the liquid trickled down between his wrinkled buttocks. The woman spread the oil around and Arthur Wilson wriggled. Danny brought the camera up just as the woman’s glistening hand come down on her client’s bare behind.

Danny saw the blue-white flesh ripple like jelly as the estate agent squirmed with delight, his combover flapping like a wounded bird’s wing as he pretended to struggle. Danny could see his mouth moving but couldn’t make out what he was saying.

The woman smacked him again. Arthur squealed theatrically and his glasses slid halfway down his nose. The telephoto lens swivelled to pin-sharpness. Danny held down the shutter and smiled into the darkness as he listened to the camera click and beep, recording the estate agent’s ecstasy at three frames a second.

“Arthur Edward Wilson, this is your life.”

The woman’s sweaty client had a very low pleasure threshold. She taunted him with his imagined misdemeanours while slapping each buttock in turn. After three or four minutes he let out a deep groan and slumped across her meaty thighs. She reached for a roll of kitchen towel by the bed, wiped her hands and passed the roll toWilson.

When she tried to ease herself out from under her limp and panting client Danny leaned forward for the final shot.

As soon as he stretched out with the camera he knew he’d gone too far. The rubber soles of his boots slipped on the branch he was standing on and he fell.
It’s not as if I made them do it. They wanted to. They were dead keen, kept on at me. They were young. They were pretty. They had an energy that added something to the vibe. Where was the harm?

How could I know some stupid fuck, some senile old retard, would ruin it, all that time and money wasted.

It shouldn’t have happened but I was busy, broad brush strokes. I had a lot going on. And I don’t do detail. Who could have guessed? I put a lot of time and money into the project and someone else fucked up bigtime.

When I found out I actioned the solution, no resources spared. Some people might think it was extreme but they wouldn’t have the perspective that I get from the top of the tree. If you have a cancer you cut it out, all of it, quickly. No half measures.

You need a detached business approach to deal with something like that. Okay, there might have been a little collateral damage but there’s no room for sentimentality in a situation like that.

I identified the problem and I managed it. I owed it to them. I loved them both. So you see, it really, really wasn’t my fault.

***

BRIGHTON, MONDAY NIGHT

The light from the window faintly illuminated the threadbare lawn 15 feet below. Wrapping his arms around his head, Danny curled up as the branches slashed and grabbed at him. One branch caught him in the ribs, punching the breath from his body and bouncing him sideways.

Within a split second Danny knew he was clear of the lower branches and plunging for the ground. He straightened and landed with his knees bent, his tall muscled body going into an untidy parachute roll across the grass.

Pain flashed up his left leg like lightning. The camera bounced up on its strap and cracked against the side of his face. He gained his feet but his momentum carried him forward and he collapsed into something soft.

The black bin bag split with an asthmatic hiss, breathing the rancid remains of week-old chicken tikka masala over his jacket. Dazed, he lay on the hard ground as two shapes appeared at the window above him, straining downward into the darkness.

“What was that?” asked Arthur, his voice squeaky with panic.

“It’s next door’s bloody tomcat,” snarled the woman. “The flea-ridden little bastard keeps crapping on my flower beds.”

***

He heard a door bang and urgent footsteps on gravel. The hinges of a gate creaked then there was a bang of old wood on wood.

Danny had counted to 95 by the time he heard the central locking beep, an engine start and gears whine as the car moved slowly away.

He stood up and stretched, wincing as he tested his latest injuries. The leg hurt like hell but it was holding up well, considering. Danny dabbed at his temple and studied the blood on his finger tips.

Satisfied he’d suffered nothing serious, he checked the camera and was relieved to find it undamaged.

He switched it to review mode and clicked through a dozen shots before the red warning flashed and the battery died.

You couldn’t see much detail and the colours were crap but even with the blur of long exposure and wide aperture Danny could clearly recognise Wilson and his lady friend in the flaring splash of orange light that was the flat’s window.

Rita Wilson wouldn’t have much trouble getting custody of the threeYorkshireterriers and the villa in Albufeira when her husband was presented with this little lot. Their dancing days were definitely over.

When he was satisfied no one was about Danny made his limping way along the side of the house and rang the doorbell.

While he waited he lit a cigarette, watching the glow of the red-orange tip grow in intensity as he sucked. He drew the smoke down until his lungs were full, then exhaled hard and shivered, aware that his hands were shaking.

Then the nicotine rush kicked in and he closed his eyes

He opened them again when the front door creaked. The woman from the window, swathed now in a thick dressing gown, arms folded under her large bosom, took a step back and they studied each other for a moment.

She might have been pretty once, thought Danny, perhaps even beautiful. But time, nicotine and the gin had taken a toll.

Her thick foundation cream was cracked by deltas of lines radiating from the corners of her eyes and mouth and her lips were circled by the fine wrinkles from years of pulling hard on a cigarette. A cloying, sweet perfume clung in Danny’s nose, spoiling the taste of his smoke.

The woman sniffed theatrically. Danny glanced down at the stains on his jacket.

“You should chase the council about your bins,” he said.

She laughed, a deep, fruity sound with a chesty rattle.

“Still, I should be grateful,” said Danny. “It broke the fall.”

“You get what you wanted?” she asked.

Danny nodded.

“I’m too old for this game,” said the woman, “but you can’t get the jobs. I couldn’t work in an office, anyway.”

Danny pulled on his cigarette again and shrugged.

“We said 25, didn’t we?”

Danny pulled a small sheaf of notes from his top pocket and peeled off a ten and two fives.

“We said twenty.”

The woman shrugged. “Can’t blame a girl for trying.”

She took the notes, checking them briefly before opening the dressing gown, plunging her hand between her breasts and nestling the money against the underwiring of her basque.

Her arms folded under the bosom again and she looked at Danny.

“Usually I’m big on client confidentiality but he was a lousy tipper. And it’s not as if I gave anything away. You knew he was coming so where’s the harm in leaving the curtains open.”

Her eyes disengaged from Danny’s, ran slowly down his body, then back up to his face again. Her smudged red lips broke into a half smile and she glanced back over her shoulder, through the open front door, at the stairs.

“Anything else I can do for you?”

Danny shook his head as he exhaled.

“Hand shandy? On the house. Best I can offer with you, smelling like that.”

“No thanks, I’ve had enough excitement for one night.”

“Pity.”

“I’d better make a move.”

“Come again,” said the woman and she closed the door.

Danny limped down the path and took a quick look up and down the street before opening the gate.

The battered old transit was where he had left it, rusting quietly in a side street a quarter of a mile away.

The ancient engine clattered grudgingly to life and he headed for home.

***

DULVESTON ESTATE,EAST SUSSEX, EARLY HOURS OF TUESDAY

Camilla D’Allessi stretched luxuriously on the big bed, enjoying the feel of skin and muscles gliding across the cool Egyptian cotton sheets.

She reached out to the bedside table and, ignoring the two glasses set on a tray, picked up a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc from the ice bucket and took a swig.

The wine was deliciously cool. Camilla lit a cigarette from the pack of Marlboro Lights on the table and flopped back into the big fluffy pillows. She sucked the smoke down deep and exhaled hard, watching the swirling column rise to the high ceiling and mushroom out across the ornate mouldings.

“God, Joey, I needed that.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I’ve spent most of my working life as a journalist and was pleased and surprised to win an award for my travel writing. Before that I tried all sorts of jobs including furniture removals, photography, teaching and running a magazine group.

Travel writing is not all cocktails under the palm trees but it’s a fantastic job that has taken me to more than 40 countries, from the pure white wastes of Arctic Finland to the ancient deserts of Namibia.

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