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Dirty Business (The First Acer Sansom Novel)

Dirty Business

 

The First Acer Sansom Novel

 

Oliver Tidy

 

Shakespir Edition

 

Copyright 2013 Oliver Tidy

 

For news and information about my books, promotions, new releases and writing life please go to olivertidy.wordpress.com and click the ‘Follow’ button.

 

You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter

 

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This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please download an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any persons without the permission of the author.

Oliver Tidy has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead is purely coincidental.

 

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Dirty Business: a practice that is morally and/or ethically bankrupt – an unsavoury means to an end.

 

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The Acer Sansom novels now number four. They don’t have to be read in order; they do all work as stand-alone novels. However, to get the most out of each it is recommended that they are read in the order in which they were written

 

 

  1. Dirty Business

 

  1. Loose Ends

 

  1. Smoke and Mirrors

 

  1. Deep State

 

 

 

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Table of Contents

 

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 Epilogue

 

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1

‘Detective Inspector Tallis?’

‘You must be the Army.’

‘Captain Harris.’

The men shook hands.

‘So, who is he?’ said Harris.

‘Was he.’

‘He’s dead?’

‘Yes…and no…and then again, probably.’

The British Army Captain frowned. With an exaggerated weariness, he said, ‘Detective Inspector, if you don’t mind, I’m exhausted and I haven’t just driven nearly two hundred miles on my Sunday off for fun.’

DI Tallis managed a half smile and inclined his head, conceding his point. He knew what it was to be tired. ‘Why don’t you come with me, Captain Harris? Take a look for yourself.’

They walked without speaking along a brightly-lit corridor. The noise and bustle of the hospital entrance receded quickly behind them. Arriving at a door marked ISOLATION in large, red capital letters, Tallis led them in.

Inside, a cosy reception area looked out over the small ward. In contrast to the artificial brightness of the corridor, this area was deliberately darkened, the windows along the far wall covered with tight-fitting blinds. A nurse sat at her station. A puddle of yellow illuminated her paperwork. Recognising the policeman, she smiled, receiving a wink in reply. A young police constable scrambled to his feet to stand outside the double doors that led into the ward.

‘Anything?’ said the Inspector.

‘No, sir. No change.’

The officers moved to the reinforced glass partition that kept visitors and patients safe from whatever each other might have. Of the six beds within, only one was occupied. As they appraised the unconscious man in it, he twisted against his restraints and, grimacing, called out something incoherent.

‘I thought you said he was dead,’ said Harris.

‘Mmm, sorry to be less than clear on that. Public Records Office says he is; the evidence indicates that he isn’t; however, the doctor reckons he probably will be soon.’

Harris nodded. ‘All right, Detective Inspector, I suppose that the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is what do you believe he has to do with the British Army?

‘You weren’t briefed?’

‘Afraid not. Chap who was supposed to come was struck down with some mystery bug. I am his ill-informed, last-minute replacement.’

‘I see,’ said the policeman. ‘According to available records, when this man was declared dead six months ago, he was a serving officer in the Grenadier Guards.’

‘Was he really?’ said Harris, unable to keep the note of surprise out of his reply.

With genuine interest, he studied the figure in the bed. He was bare-chested, the hospital sheet pulled up only to the cage that covered his midriff. He was exceptionally tanned, which was accentuated by his shoulder-length, sun-bleached-blond hair. His face and torso showed him to be lean, bordering on gaunt, although his arms and chest indicated strength. A good-sized tattoo covered much of his right bicep. He looked as though he would be very fit if it weren’t for all the tubes and leads attached to him.

‘Was he really?’ he repeated. ‘So, what’s his story?’

‘Brought in unconscious and with a gunshot wound two days ago. Look, he’s not likely to wake up any time soon, so why don’t we pay a visit to the canteen here? You can buy me a cup of tea and a bun on your expenses and I can tell you all about how our friend came to be here.’

Captain Harris smiled at the policeman for the first time. ‘Sounds good to me, but if you think the Army will pay for it you’re sadly mistaken. Those days are long gone.’

‘All right, you buy the teas, I’ll get the cakes.’

Beyond the glass, the man in the bed, seized by the torment of a memory, twisted and moaned hopelessly.

 

*

 

The two men sat in a corner of the almost empty hospital cafeteria. The sound of metallic crashing echoed through from the kitchen.

‘It’s hardly surprising that expenses no longer cover this sort of thing, is it?’ said DI Tallis. ‘At these prices the service would be bankrupt in a year.’

Captain Harris took a sip of his stewed tea. Tallis tried his instant coffee. Neither appeared impressed.

‘So, Detective Inspector, your captive audience awaits.’

‘Stan, if you like.’

‘Simon. Look, you know everything I’m going to need to know, so you could just make it easier on us both and rattle it off.’

Tallis smiled back. ‘And I can count on the Army being crystal clear and cooperative in return, I’m sure.’ Harris nodded in reply as he sipped his tea. ‘And I can tidy up another murder statistic and you can go back to doing whatever it is that you do.’

‘Murder? Jumping the gun a little aren’t we, Stan? He’s not dead yet.’

‘I’m referring to the man he shot in the face,’ said Tallis.

The Army man barely hesitated as he brought a forkful of strawberry cheesecake to his mouth. ‘Mmm,’ he said, in appreciation of the dessert, or the information, the policeman couldn’t be sure. ‘Sounds intriguing.’

Tallis read from his notebook: ‘We’ve identified him as one Acer Sansom, age thirty-two…’

‘Acer Sansom?’ interrupted Harris. This time his loaded fork was held halfway between plate and mouth. He put it down. ‘Forgive me, but are you quite sure?’

‘Fingerprints don’t lie, Simon. Don’t tell me you know him?’

‘I know of an Acer Sansom. Went missing a year or so ago, if memory serves – cruising the Pacific. They all disappeared without a trace. You must remember it. Made quite a stink. A Minister’s son on board. Actually, it was Bishop’s, come to think of it. He was in charge of defence procurement then.’

DI Tallis’s appetite for his pudding deserted him. The few mouthfuls that he had managed threatened to embarrass him with a swift reappearance as the watertight door that held back the memory of a surname was cracked open. He was suddenly very hot, stiflingly so. He felt his head begin to swim and the blood pound in his ears as the information was assimilated by his brain and his body reacted. He lost some of his colour and was grateful that he was sitting down. How could he have missed that connection? It was there now, trickling out of its confinement with the rest of the horrors. A surname. Unusual enough for him to have noted it, considered it. Fighting to control his emotions and pushing his plate away, he managed through a dry throat, ‘I do remember. Very well.’ He helped himself to water from the jug on the table.

Seemingly oblivious to the effect of his revelation, Harris said, ‘Look, sorry, but there can’t be any doubt?’

The DI made a show of scrutinising some detail of his notebook, buying himself some time, delaying his response, getting his breathing and digestive system under control. He could do little about the haunted look that had settled on his weary features.

‘Stan?’

Tallis forced a weak smile. ‘Sorry, miles away. His prints are on record. A youthful indiscretion. Of course, you’ll check for yourself,’ he said, something of his business-like manner returning.

‘Of course. There could be two, I suppose,’ said Harris, doubtfully. He resumed picking at his dessert. ‘Please, continue.’

Tallis took a deep breath: ‘Two days ago the police were called to a shooting incident at the home of a local businessman – a gentleman not unknown to me. When we show up, your man is unconscious, bleeding to death all over the sheepskin rug. A Mr Harper, the deceased, is slumped a few yards away minus most of his head, and a hysterical Mrs Harper, now the widow Harper, is cowering in an adjacent room.’

‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ said Harris, finally putting his fork down. ‘And he hasn’t said anything lucid since being brought in?’

‘Nothing coherent. Certainly hasn’t regained consciousness, and according to the surgeon who removed a nine millimetre bullet from his stomach, it’s in the lap of the gods whether he ever does again.’

Harris nodded. ‘Any idea of the whys and wherefores?’

‘None at all. Doesn’t appear to have been anyone else involved. I’m going to pay a visit to the widow when I leave here. You’re welcome to tag along.’

‘Thank you. Mind if I make a couple of quick calls first?’

‘I was hoping that you would. To be honest, we’re at a bit of a dead end. The man appears to have come out of nowhere. Anything you have to share would be welcome.’

‘I’ll see what I can do. Give me a few minutes.’

They rose together.

‘I’ll be in the car park having a smoke,’ said Tallis.

 

*

 

As Tallis made his way through the hospital corridors to his nicotine fix, Captain Harris navigated his way back to the patient. The nurse was no longer at her post. Nodding to the PC, he pushed through the double doors and walked up to the occupied bed. Ignoring the signs forbidding the use of mobile phones, he removed his from his pocket and took several photographs of the man’s face and tattoo.

‘So what is your story, matey?’ he said. He tapped the phone thoughtfully against his chin for a few moments before slipping it back into his pocket and leaving.

Clear of the building, Harris put a call through to his office. He explained the situation and forwarded the best of the pictures. It was agreed with his superior officer that, as he was there, he should accompany the policeman on his visit to the crime scene and call in later with any information and for further instructions.

 

*

 

Harris found Tallis leaning against his car, smoking. There were, he noticed, already two cigarette butts at his feet.

‘They’ll kill you, you know?’

‘What doesn’t in the end?’ said Tallis, grinding out the cigarette under his heel. ‘Ride with me if you like. I can drop you off here afterwards; I’ve got to come back this way.’

They left the hospital car park, negotiated the roundabout at the top of the road and joined the busy A road.

‘Anything to share?’ said Tallis

‘Sorry, nothing yet. Chap I spoke to is going to do some checking. They’re going to send me Army Records’ mugshot of Acer Sansom. That should tell us for sure if he’s who you think he is.’

‘Well, whoever he is, he hasn’t been living round these parts for some time, not with a tan like that – unless he’s got a thing for sun-beds, of course.’

‘Your people found nothing on him, I suppose, to support the idea that he is Sansom?’

‘Nothing. No ID. Not even a wallet.’

‘And the firearms involved?’

‘Two pistols. The dead man’s was licensed to him. He belonged to a gun club but doesn’t seem to have been a regular visitor. Forensics is looking at Sansom’s.’

‘If it is Sansom, any ideas what he was doing there?’

‘Apart from murder, none. No sign that he broke in. I am inclined to believe that they knew each other.’

‘What makes you say that?’

‘Statistics: you don’t often get two people in the same room shooting each other when they’ve only just met, especially around here.’

‘Fascinating,’ said Harris, visibly warming to the mystery.

 

*

 

The dead man’s home was an imposing, if slightly ostentatious, Victorian red brick affair with enough land on each side for a couple of good-sized building plots. A sign at the end of the gravel drive announced that it had once been a rectory.

The officers were let into the house by a WPC. After a brief conversation with Tallis, she led them past a police-sealed room and through to a sitting room that could have been a Laura Ashley dream realised.

Mrs Harper was sitting on a gaudy floral couch, her feet pulled up under her, both hands clamped around a steaming mug. Another woman perched on its twin opposite her; she was composed, relaxed and clearly no stranger to money. Neither woman made to stand, nor smile, as the men entered the room.

Tallis broke the awkward silence. ‘Mrs Harper, you remember me, I hope, Detective Inspector Tallis?’ She nodded but she was staring at Harris. ‘This is a colleague of mine, Mr Harris. I appreciate that this is a difficult time for you, but we really need to get this mess sorted out as soon as possible. Best for everyone in the long run.’

‘Couldn’t agree more,’ said the clearly not-very-grieving widow.

Tallis brightened to match the enthusiasm of the dead man’s wife, privately relieved that he wasn’t going to have to confront and coax information from a distraught, wailing widow. ‘Very good,’ he said. ‘May we sit down?’

‘Help yourself.’

The men removed their coats. The WPC stood off to the side. The woman sitting across from Mrs Harper stood.

‘I’ll make some tea, shall I?’

Tallis said, ‘Thank you, Mrs…?’

‘Watts, Mrs Shirley Watts – friend of the family. I live close by. Judy?’

Mrs Harper smiled up at her. ‘I’m fine thanks, Shirl.’

Mrs Watts departed for the kitchen. The two men settled themselves into the vacated sofa.

‘How are you bearing up, Mrs Harper?’ said Tallis.

She snorted. ‘Don’t worry about me. That crazy man did me a favour, if you want the truth.’

‘Really? How do you mean?’ he said, unable to keep a hint of what he thought of that callous remark out of his voice.

‘It’s no secret that we didn’t get on, so I won’t pretend that he’ll be missed – not by me, anyway. But don’t think that what happened was anything to do with me,’ she added, in response to Tallis’s raised eyebrows.

‘Do you have any idea why someone might have wanted to harm your husband, Mrs Harper?’ Tallis asked.

‘Probably another of his bloody useless business deals going tits up and someone had enough of him. He’s had trouble before. Look, I don’t know,’ she said, checking herself. ‘I wasn’t here, was I?’

‘What can you tell us about Thursday night, then?’

‘Not much. I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. Thursday nights I always go out. Bingo at the old cinema.’

Tallis nodded and tried to hide his feelings. She was right; he was disappointed that she was probably going to be of little help if she was telling the truth. ‘The man who shot your husband, had you ever seen him before?’

‘It was a rule that none of his business associates ever came to the house. And I didn’t get much of a look at him the other night. Well, I wasn’t going to hang around, was I?’

Mrs Watts came back into the room with a tray. The conversation stopped while teas were organised.

‘What time would you say you returned home on Thursday evening, Mrs Harper?’ said Tallis.

‘I probably came in the door around ten o’clock. That’s my usual time and there was nothing unusual about Thursday night. Not till I got home, anyway. Then it got bloody unusual.’

The Inspector gave the woman a sharp look. A man was dead, after all – murdered quite unpleasantly. It was a serious business, whoever they were and however she felt about them.

‘Tell us about it,’ he said.

‘Why aren’t you writing anything down?’ said Mrs Harper.

‘Oh, this isn’t a formal witness statement,’ said Tallis. ‘We’re really just trying to find out what happened, while things are still fresh in your mind.’

‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘I won’t be forgetting it quickly, I can tell you.’

Harris cleared his throat. Mrs Harper eyed him, sensing something in it. ‘He doesn’t say much, does he?’

‘Captain Harris is just here as an observer, Mrs Harper.’

‘Captain? Funny title for a copper.’

‘Captain Harris is with the Army.’

‘The Army?’ repeated the widow. ‘What the bloody hell has the Army got to do with this?’

‘Nothing at all,’ said Tallis, instantly regretting his disclosure.

‘Well, if it’s got nothing to do with the Army, what’s he doing here then?’

‘It’s possible that one of the weapons used in the shooting was registered to the Army. Captain Harris is really only attending as a matter of procedure, following up a possible line of enquiry.’

‘That’s entirely correct, Mrs Harper,’ said Harris, feeling the need to support Tallis’s statement. ‘It’s really nothing more than that.’

The widow sniffed, clearly unconvinced. ‘Well, don’t ask me where my husband got his gun from; I’ve no idea. I didn’t even want it in the house. I hate them. Look what it did for him.’

Tallis steered the woman back to Thursday. ‘So, you returned home at about ten o’clock. What happened then?’

‘I remember there was a funny smell in the house. Reminded me of firework night when I was a girl. It was just hanging in the air. I called out to Malcolm, but of course got no reply. So, I looked for him. Didn’t have to go far. He was always in his study. God knows what he found to do in there night after night, except drink.

‘You know what I saw. Before you ask, I didn’t touch anything. I didn’t even go in, really. I put my head round the door, that’s all. Soon as I saw the mess – they both looked dead to me – I got out and called you lot.’

Tallis could think of no reason why the woman would lie. In fact, as the attending senior officer of that evening, he had every reason to believe her. Forensic evidence, such as it was, supported her claim. There had been no indication that anyone had disturbed the scene of the shootings. No evidence of a third party involved either.

‘Thank you, Mrs Harper,’ said Tallis. ‘Before we leave, I will need to take another look at the room, if you don’t mind. Then we’ll leave you alone. For your peace of mind, there doesn’t appear to have been anyone else involved. We think that the ‘crazy man’, as you call him, was acting alone. Of course, if there’s anything else that we do need to ask you about, I take it you’ll be around?’

‘I’m not going anywhere. This is my house now,’ she said.

‘Right. Good. Oh, one other thing, do you remember whether the front door was locked when you came home on Thursday evening?’

The woman gave it a moment’s thought. ‘Must have been. Yes, I’m sure that it was. It would have been unusual if it wasn’t and I’d have remembered it.’

‘Right then,’ said the DI, getting to his feet.

‘Did he die?’ said Mrs Harper. ‘The other bloke.’ She was looking intently at the policeman with an expression that he couldn’t fathom. Was it fear?

‘Not yet but the doctors think it unlikely that he’ll live.’ After a moment in which she looked as though she was about to say something and then changed her mind, Tallis said, ‘If there’s nothing else?’

Mrs Harper regained something of her caustic self. ‘There is one thing: take her with you, will you?’ she nodded towards the WPC. ‘She makes me nervous.’

The DI glanced at Mrs Watts, receiving what he was sure was a sympathetic look. ‘Of course, if you don’t feel that you need us.’

The two men gathered up their coats, offered further thanks for their teas and left the room to visit the dead man’s study. The WPC left for the station, glad to be out of that awful woman’s home.

The room was much as one would expect for a middle-aged businessman with little apparent interest in interior design. There was no influence of Ms Ashley’s floral fabrics; no dainty china ornaments gathering dust; no silver or glass knick-knacks to give the room some points of interest. Both men felt more comfortable for it. The furniture was sparse, heavy, plain and dark. There were some untidy bookshelves, a couple of maritime prints on the neutrally-finished walls, and a large desk, in front of which was spread a sheepskin rug – stained beyond saving with a large quantity of the wounded man’s blood. The room was not orderly but neither was it a pigsty. It just looked lived in.

The two men stood in silence for a few moments, each busy with his own thoughts: reconstructing, imagining, assimilating. The DI had been here before, thought about it before, but he felt he should give his colleague the courtesy of an opportunity to take a minute for himself.

Breaking the quiet, Tallis said, ‘The dead man was on the floor behind the desk.’ A spray of dark stains on the wall behind this suggested that something unpleasant had recently decorated it. ‘Sansom, or whoever he is, was on the rug there.’ Tallis indicated the area immediately in front of the desk. The expansive dark stain showing clearly where a man had almost bled to death made this an unnecessary explanation.

The Captain bent to finger a small crude hole punched out of the back of the antique desk from within. The highly-polished walnut veneer had been ruined by the splintered aperture about the size of a penny.

‘Our boys think Sansom was standing here,’ said Tallis, moving to demonstrate, ‘when the dead man fired at him through the desk, probably from the drawer where he kept the weapon. Sansom must have impressed upon the deceased that he meant to harm him. More than likely was already holding his own gun on him.’

Harris nodded. ‘Makes sense. And Sansom fires back reflexively. Both men lie helpless until the widow returns.’

‘If he survives, she’ll have saved his life,’ said Tallis.

‘It doesn’t strike me that she’d be very pleased about that.’

At that instant, both the policeman’s and the soldier’s mobile phones rang.

When both had finished dealing with the calls, Captain Harris said, ‘Well, Stan, it appears that if the man lying in the hospital isn’t Sansom then he not only bears a remarkable resemblance to him but he also has an identical tattoo.’

‘Perhaps you can ask him yourself,’ said the policeman. ‘That was the hospital. He’s regained consciousness.’

 

*

 

Forty-five minutes later the two men were, once more, striding together through the labyrinth of hospital corridors. In the ISOLATION ward they waited and watched through the glass divide as a doctor and the station nurse attended to their patient.

When the pair emerged, Tallis said, ‘Afternoon, doctor. What news?’

‘He’s doing remarkably well, Inspector, all things considered. He’s strong. To be honest, I didn’t expect him to make it through the first night. But now, well, now I think that, providing he doesn’t succumb to infection and there aren’t further complications, he will probably survive.’

‘Can we speak to him?’

‘I’ve had to sedate him. You won’t get any sense out of him.’

‘Has he spoken?’

‘He did say something,’ said the nurse. ‘Before the doctor arrived. I was in there with him. I’m not sure he knows much of where he is. He was delirious. It sounded like he said that they killed them.’

‘Can you remember exactly?’ said Tallis.

‘He said, “‘they killed them.’” I’m sure of it. He also said a name. It sounded like Allie – probably his wife, Alison.’

‘How do you know that?’ said Tallis.

‘I noticed it on his wedding ring.’

‘I don’t remember seeing a wedding band,’ said the policeman.

‘It wasn’t on his finger; it was on a thong around his neck. We had to remove it before he went in for surgery. I noticed that it was inscribed on the inside.’

‘Well done,’ said the DI. ‘We missed that.’ He gave a sigh of exasperation. ‘Where is it now?’

‘I put it in his bedside locker. Would you like me to fetch it?’

‘Thank you, yes.’

‘And there was nothing else?’ said Harris.

‘Nothing.’

‘Thanks,’ said Tallis. ‘You’ll let us know of any change?’

‘Of course,’ said the doctor. ‘But I wouldn’t expect anything within the next twenty-four hours. As I said, we’ve had to sedate him heavily. He’d be a danger to his chances of recovery otherwise. Does a lot of thrashing about. Something that might interest you: from the looks of his feet, he hasn’t been wearing shoes for a good while.’

‘What do you mean?’ said Harris.

‘Exactly what I say; his feet are so rough and calloused that I’d guess he hasn’t been accustomed to wearing footwear for some time.’

‘Thank you, doctor,’ said the policeman.

As the nurse handed him the ring, Tallis said, ‘That was observant of you. Perhaps you should have been a copper.’

‘And miss all this excitement,’ she said, indicating with a wave of her hand the peace and serenity of the ward.

The officers stepped out into the corridor and the better light.

Always Alison,’ read Tallis, turning the ring around under the fluorescent tubes. ‘I remember Records said he had a wife but that she was also dead. Don’t remember a name. Would you be able to find that out with a phone call on a Sunday?’

‘I should think so,’ said Harris.

‘While you’re at it, could you confirm whether he was on active service or leave when he disappeared? It would be helpful to have some of these gaps filled in.’

‘I’ll see what I can do. You understand that now we’ve established who he is and that he was a serving officer in the British Army it rather casts a whole new light on things.’

‘Exactly what I was thinking,’ said Tallis.

‘You can’t use that in here,’ said a passing staff nurse as Harris extracted his mobile phone from his jacket. He smiled back, apologetically.

‘Come on,’ said Tallis, ‘It doesn’t look like we’re going to get anything more here anyway.’

 

*

 

In the hospital car park, Harris wandered off to make his phone call while Tallis smoked and pondered the developments. He should have been on the lake today enjoying some carp fishing, finding some peace and quiet, some respite from all the nonsense.

But he couldn’t ignore it now. Sansom wasn’t just a job statistic any more. He had become part of his puzzle. The puzzle of his pain. He was the only part that Tallis had and he had fallen into his lap from nowhere – a gift or a curse.

The agony would never go away. It would always be there, lurking in the depths of his consciousness – the leviathan of his nightmares – waiting to resurface and overwhelm him at the slightest prodding. He discarded his half-smoked cigarette and trod it out.

Harris returned looking puzzled. ‘Lieutenant Acer Sansom, lately of the Grenadier Guards, was definitely on leave when he disappeared, missing at sea, presumed dead, thirteen months ago.

‘He was married to Alison Sansom and they had a nine-month-old daughter, Abigail, both of whom are believed to have perished at sea along with him and the others in the party. I’d say it looks pretty conclusive that it is Acer Sansom lying in there, wouldn’t you?’

Tallis felt something heavy awake inside him – his leviathan was stirring. It wouldn’t do his ulcer any good. Life – always one step forward, two steps back.

‘What are you going to do?’ said Tallis.

‘I’ve been instructed to stay on here, at least until tomorrow.’

Tallis checked his watch. He was in need of a drink. ‘Fancy a pint somewhere?’

Harris shook his head. ‘Thanks for the offer but I’ve got to arrange somewhere to stay and I’ve got some paperwork I’ve brought with me that’s rather urgent.’

‘Right,’ said Tallis, understanding but disappointed. ‘There’s a Travel Inn just round the corner if you’re not fussy.’

‘Saw it on my way in. It’ll be fine.’

‘I’ll leave you to it then.’

The men exchanged mobile phone numbers with the arrangement that the DI would call the following day. They shook hands and went their separate ways.

 

*

 

One hour later a telephone rang in the same county. The man who answered it was, at first, reluctant to bother his employer, who was spending a quiet weekend in the country with his family, his first for some weeks. However, when the caller identified himself and hinted at the reason for the call, he had no hesitation in disturbing him. In turn, the employer, after a brief explanation, told his man to put it through to his study, immediately. He went to his private room, arranged himself behind his desk and, clutching the phone tightly, waited for the line to be connected.

‘Hello,’ said the caller.

‘Peter?’ said the former Minister for Defence Procurement, Alex Bishop MP. ‘How are you? What’s all this about David?’

There was impatience in the politician’s voice: an edginess created by the knowledge that the caller was ringing to discuss something about his stepson who had gone missing at sea, presumed dead, thirteen months before.

‘Hello, Alex,’ said the Brigadier. ‘Sorry to disturb you at home on a Sunday, but I have some information that I know you wouldn’t want to wait to hear.’

‘Go on.’

‘Apparently, someone who was on the same trip as David has turned up alive.’

The politician’s knuckles stood out white against the red of the handset.

‘Alex?’ said the caller.

‘Yes, I’m here, Peter, sorry. Please continue.’

‘Look, I know that this must be a bit of a shock for you after all this time,’ said the Army officer.

‘It’s OK. I’m OK. What can you tell me?’

The Brigadier explained that Acer Sansom, a Lieutenant in the British Army and one of those reported missing at the same time as the politician’s relative, David Bishop, had been found, positively identified, and was lying in a hospital bed in Hampshire with a life-threatening gunshot wound. The police also wanted to speak to Sansom regarding the death of another man found with him. The politician sat in stunned silence.

‘Alex?’ said the caller again.

‘Peter, you were right to call me. Thank you. What else can you tell me?’

‘We have a man down there liaising with the local constabulary – arrived today. It’s still touch and go whether Sansom will survive – gut shot at close range. Details of how he came to be where he is are a complete mystery to all. The only person who could shed some light on it is dead, courtesy of a bullet to the head from Sansom. It’s a mess.’

‘Is it public knowledge?’ said Bishop.

‘Not who he is. Not yet. According to our chap, they only became certain of his identity today.’

‘Can we keep it that way?’

‘Leave it with me, Alex. I’ll see what I can do. It shouldn’t be a problem for now.’

‘Thanks again, Peter. Can you keep me fully updated about any change in the man’s condition?’

‘Of course. No problem.’

Bishop gently replaced the receiver, sat back in his chair and stared out absently over his garden through the French windows. Information and options churned over in his mind. He retrieved a notebook from his desk, found the number that he needed and dialled. It was picked up almost immediately.

‘Justin? Alex Bishop. Sorry to trouble you on a Sunday, but I have something rather urgent and personal that I need your help with.’

 

*

 

At nine o’clock that evening, Captain Harris, engrossed in report writing, received a phone call from his Commanding Officer instructing him to attend the Royal South Hampshire Hospital in two hours’ time and supervise the collection by British military personnel of patient/prisoner Lieutenant Acer Sansom, who was to be transferred to an undisclosed Ministry of Defence location.

Half an hour later, Detective Inspector Tallis received a call from his Superintendent. He too was advised that Hampshire County Constabulary was transferring responsibility for Lieutenant Sansom as of eleven o’clock that evening, when the Army would be collecting him from the hospital.

Tallis’s spirits sank. No amount of protesting or reasoning would influence his superior officer. Confidentially, he was told that the decision to move the soldier had come from so high up that those responsible for it were obscured by cloud.

Two minutes later, Captain Harris’s mobile shrilled again.

‘Harris’.

‘Simon? Stan Tallis here. Mind telling me what’s going on?’

‘You’ve been told then. Look, Stan, believe it or not this is as much of a surprise to me as it must be to you. I just follow instructions, do what I’m told.’

‘And they’re collecting him tonight?’

‘About eleven.’

‘Christ, they don’t hang about do they? Have they considered his fitness for travel?’

‘Someone’s certainly impatient to have him back in the fold.’

‘Mind if I come to see him off? I’ve got something for him.’

‘Be my guest. I’ll be there about ten-thirty.’

 

*

 

For the third time in twelve hours, DI Tallis and Captain Harris found themselves together in the ISOLATION ward. There had been no change in the condition of the patient/prisoner. The two men sipped coffee from cardboard take-away cups – a peace offering from Harris – as they awaited the arrival of the military.

‘When will I be able to talk to him?’ said Tallis. ‘What guarantees can you give me about that?’

‘I’m sure that as soon as he recovers and the Army have got what they want from him, you’ll have an opportunity to finish conducting your enquiries.’ Tallis gave an exasperated look and the soldier saw desperation in the policeman’s eyes. ‘It’s out of my hands, Stan,’ he said.

‘And what do I tell the widow?’ said Tallis, clutching at straws.

‘The truth: the Army claimed him back to provide the best medical care for one of their own to ensure his recovery so that he could account for his actions. In any case, I don’t imagine her being too bothered, do you?’ Tallis snorted.

Harris continued: ‘Look, Stan, you know as well as I do that there’s certainly nothing to be done about it now. There’s obviously more to this whole business than meets the eye. Someone influential wants Sansom where they can keep an eye on him.’

Tallis shook his head in silent resignation. Keen to change the subject, Harris said, ‘You said you had something for him.’

Tallis fished in his pocket and retrieved the thong and wedding band. ‘He might be looking for this when he wakes up.’

Harris took it and put it in his own pocket. ‘I’ll see that he gets it.’

The two men started as a patient trolley, guided by two medics in Army fatigues, crashed through the doors to the ward. A Major followed them in, deep in conversation with the doctor who had attended to Sansom earlier.

‘I really don’t understand why you would jeopardise this man’s recovery, his life, by moving him now. He’s getting excellent care here,’ said the doctor.

The Major smiled benignly at him. ‘It’s really not my decision, I’m afraid. You’ve had your instructions and I’ve had mine. End of. We all just do what we’re told. Anyway, you said yourself that he’s no longer in a critical condition.’

‘Yes, but that doesn’t mean that he’s stable enough to go riding around country lanes in an Army truck. You are aware of the extent of his injuries?’

‘If you can provide me with his medical record sheet, I will be,’ said the Major. ‘We are not unused to dealing with gunshot victims,’ he added.

The doctor threw up his hands in defeat. The Major approached the two men. Harris snapped to attention and saluted.

‘Captain Harris?’

‘Sir. This is Detective Inspector Tallis.’

The Major and the DI shook hands.

‘Please tell me that you’re not going to give me a grilling for stealing your prisoner,’ said the Major. ‘As you can see, I’m already out of favour around here for stealing a patient.’

‘What would be the point, Major?’ said Tallis.

‘To be frank, none. Right, Captain, you can be on your way if you like. We’ve got it from here.’

‘Sir.’

The Major turned to Tallis and with a curt, ‘Inspector,’ left to finalise the collection of Lieutenant Sansom.

‘How about that drink?’ said Harris.

‘Why not?’ said Tallis. ‘They’ve got a social club here that’ll serve us a decent pint. And besides, I’ve got a favour to ask you.’

 

***

 

 

2

In contrast to the enforced darkness of the NHS ward, the Army hospital room was bathed in early morning sunlight. Somewhere, not too distant, the parade ground was busy with the synchronised rhythmic beating of hundreds of highly-polished boots. The bawling of an RSM upbraiding recruits vibrated the air.

Lieutenant Acer Sansom lay in his cot insensible, as he had done since being deposited there more than forty-eight hours previously.

A sudden screech – the berating of a soldier out of step – punctured the soothing sound of muffled communal routine and effort. Deep within the subdued and troubled memory of the sleeping soldier, something stirred.

A barely perceptible pin-prick of dullness appeared in the distance. Instinctively, he began to haul his leaden existence, fatigued, spent, towards his salvation. The pin-prick expanded, brightened, became a diffused glow. Wearily ascending from the abyss, he struggled upwards, exerting every sinew, clawing at the darkness, the urge to survive desperate. His lungs agonisingly crushed, fighting for breath, for life, excruciatingly helpless. Nothing left: exhausted, drained, sapped. A sinking dizziness, resigned submission. The fight lost. His agonising exertions, frantic thrashings, were at an end. Defeat. Gravity the victor.

A hand, an arm, reaching out from the world above; clasping his outstretched fingers, a firm familiar grip dragging him to safety. Brightness increasing. Dazzling. Bursting through the surface. Gasping, sucking, filling his shrivelled lungs with warm salty air. Relief flooding his whole being. Staring into the face of his beautiful wife, his reason, his responsibility, his saviour. Her remarkable features moving towards him, eyes closing, lips parting, intense heat.

Then nothing.

Water turned to fabric, gently lapping waves an electronic pulse. The warmth flowed out of him. Alison vanished, replaced by yellowed polystyrene ceiling tiles. Desperately, he closed his eyes once more, searching for his wife. But again she had left him alone. A tear left his closed eye, streaked across his cheek and fell to the pillow.

A door opened. The sound of human chatter and activity crept in.

‘Lieutenant Sansom?’ A woman’s voice.

The man swallowed hard, moistened his lips. He said, ‘I haven’t been called that for a long time.’ Squinting through half-open eyes against the glare, he could make out the woman crossing to the wall of windows and drawing a thin fabric, diffusing the light. She was wearing Army medical scrubs.

‘Good to have you back, sir,’ she said.

‘Back where?’

‘The land of the living,’

‘I’ll let you know about that. Where am I?’

‘DMRC Headley Court,’ she said, approaching his bed. ‘Take some water, sir.’ She brought a plastic beaker with a straw to his mouth. He sucked it gratefully. ‘Enjoy the peace while you can, sir,’ she said. ‘You’re going to be busy – gentleman wanting to speak with you.’

‘I can imagine,’ he said. ‘How long have I been here?’

‘Since 0100 hours, Monday. It’s 0800 hours Wednesday now, give or take. I’m going to fetch the doctor, sir. Anything I can do for you before I go?’

The officer was staring at the muslin fabric at the window. ‘Would you open a window for me?’

‘Certainly, sir.’

‘And for God’s sake stop calling me sir.’

He watched as the curtains billowed into life, like the sails in the memories of his last days with his family. Somewhere close by a pigeon called, searching for a mate, or pining for one lost.

 

*

 

Captain Harris settled into the padded chair he had organised for himself to the side of the hospital bed. If he was going to be there for some time, as he believed he would, he intended to be comfortable. Sansom eyed the man neutrally.

‘Well, Lieutenant,’ said Harris, smiling affably. ‘I imagine that you must have a very interesting tale to tell. Neither hide nor hair been seen of you in thirteen months and then you turn up with a smoking gun, quite literally, in your hand. The Army, for starters, would very much like to know what you’ve been up to. Personally, intrigued doesn’t even come close.’

‘And you are?’

‘Sorry, Captain Harris, Royal Military Police. No need to get up, but let’s just remind ourselves that currently we are both serving officers in the British Army, shall we?’

The thought that he was still being regarded as a soldier brought the hint of a smile to Sansom’s lips.

‘I have the enviable task of finding out exactly where you’ve been and what you’ve been up to since you dropped off the radar. For now, this is informal, depending on what you have to say and whether you wish to cooperate, that is.

‘I won’t lie to you; the circumstances of your disappearance and resurfacing are probably going to involve all sorts of law enforcement in time. Eventually, you are going to have to account, officially, for rather a lot.’

With a resigned sigh, Sansom said, ‘I understand all that, of course.’ He looked the Captain in the eye. ‘I have no intention of doing anything other than cooperating. It’s the best chance I have, and besides, I have nothing to hide. When do you want to start?’

‘No time like the present; if you’re up to it, that is.’

‘Suits me. It might alleviate the crushing boredom of just lying here.’

‘And how about physically? I understand that your wound is healing well.’

‘That’s what they tell me – out of the woods.’

The Captain reached into his bag and retrieved a small recording device. ‘You don’t mind, do you? Saves all that tedious note-taking.’

Sansom shook his head. ‘Where do you want me to start?’

‘At wherever you believe the beginning to be.’

Lieutenant Sansom took a stabilising breath. ‘That would be on the ship, The Rendezvous. If you know who I am, you must know all about the trip.’

Harris inclined his head. ‘Yes, we have you down as on leave, part of a group sailing across the Pacific.’ Harris hesitated briefly, searching the man’s face for some kind of emotion, as he continued: ‘Your wife and child were on board with you, I believe.’

‘Yes,’ said Sansom, ‘they were.’ A determined expression settled on the Lieutenant’s features, his jaw clenched and Harris noticed that the man’s eyes glittered with tears.

Harris remembered the ring the policeman had given him. He found it in his satchel and passed it across to Sansom. ‘This was around your neck when you were brought in. Hospital staff needed to remove it before they operated on you.’

Sansom took it from him. ‘Thank you,’ he said, his voice catching. The Captain waited patiently while the man, fingering the ring, mustered his composure. ‘I had to put it on a cord to wear in the end,’ he explained. ‘I lost so much weight that it just kept falling off my finger. Couldn’t risk losing it.’ He looked up at the Captain with his moist eyes. ‘I used to weigh nearly fifteen stone,’ he said.

Harris guessed that Sansom would probably tip the scales at around nine stones today. ‘What happened? Have you been ill?’

Sansom snorted. ‘A year alone marooned on an uninhabited Pacific island happened.’

As Sansom brought the straw of his drink to his mouth, his interrogator pressed the record button on the listening device.

‘The cruise was supposed to have taken five weeks – the trip of a lifetime for me. Alison, my wife, had arranged the whole thing, knowing my love for the sea and the old sailing ships. We were on a refurbished tall ship sailing in the south Pacific. There were twelve other passengers and six crew.

‘The idea was that the passengers, in a token way, would contribute to the running of the ship during its passage. It was an opportunity for those of us with rose-tinted spectacles about the past to live out some kind of fantasy. But you must know all this?’

‘I’ve read the file, done some homework, but it helps to hear it all from you,’ said Harris. ‘Please, in your own words is best. Don’t leave anything out.’

‘Two weeks into the trip we stopped at an uninhabited island. We planned to spend a day or two there, just enjoying the island-paradise-exclusivity.’

‘What was the name of the island?’ interrupted Harris.

‘Jackson. It’s a few hundred miles south of the Pitcairns.’

‘I don’t remember reading anything about that on the trip itinerary.’

‘It wasn’t part of the original plan. In fact it was a little out of our way. It was added after we were under way and everyone seemed keen to try it.’

‘Who added it?’

‘The skipper said it had been suggested by Harper, the trip organiser, after we left port.’

‘Right. That’s where he fits into this?’

Sansom nodded. ‘We arrived in the evening, dropped anchor about half a mile off the island. There were reefs and the water was too shallow to get the clipper any closer safely. Next morning we made our way in using the dinghies – all the passengers, apart from Alison and Abby, and two of the crew.’ Abby wasn’t well, had a bit of a fever and we decided it would be better if she stayed on board and rested. We were to take it in turns to be with her. I went to the island first.

‘After we unloaded the supplies and set up the temporary shelters, I decided to take the opportunity to explore something of the place. It rose to quite a height in the middle and I thought the view would be worth the effort of getting there.

‘I think the prospect of the climb was a little too much for the others. And it was tough. I ended up taking a nap while I was up there. It was meant to be just a few minutes. I awoke to the sound of gunfire. You never forget that sound if you’ve been in battle. Have you ever been in battle, Captain Harris?’

‘Yes,’ answered Harris, meeting the man’s challenging stare.

‘I had a good view of the beach. It was pandemonium. There were several men who weren’t part of our group. They were armed with automatic weapons and were firing into the air, rounding everyone up. One of the men, Holdstock, made a break for the trees. They shot him. Out by The Rendezvous, I could see another ship had anchored – much more modern. There were men on the deck of The Rendezvous too.’

‘You could be sure of all this from your distance?’

‘I had a powerful pair of binoculars. I got down to the beach as quickly as I could, but by then they’d rounded everyone up and were in the dinghies heading back to the ships. There was nothing I could do.’

‘I understand,’ said the Captain, sensing the man’s angry frustration still.

‘I was standing there completely useless, helpless. I could see what was happening: modern-day piracy or kidnapping. Holdstock was badly wounded but not dead. I guessed that they might be back for him, or me once they realised I was missing.

‘I got him to his feet, had my arm round him, was dragging him to the trees – then his head exploded. The force of the shot that took him out knocked me off my feet. I lay there dazed for a few seconds, covered in bits of him, fighting to keep calm. More bullets cracked overhead into the trees. And then I broke for cover. When I looked back from the tree line, I could see that there was already a boat on its way back for me. I had about five minutes.’

Sansom broke off to sip his water.

‘I put as much distance between them and me as I could and then got into deep cover. All I had was a Swiss Army knife. They weren’t professionals. Their approach was amateurish. The four of them came after me. None of them stayed with the boat. No coordination. No leader. Just random searching.’ The Lieutenant broke off from his narrative. ‘I take it you’ve seen my service record?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then you know that I spent time in Belize.’ Harris nodded. ‘They teach you some things about surviving against the odds there.

‘They split up. They were speaking English. It was accented though. I’m sure it was South African. They were shooting at shadows. I’m surprised they didn’t shoot each other. I got behind one of them. Swiss Army knives don’t just open tins of beans.’

‘So you got a weapon?’

‘Yes, an M16, but the sights were fucked. Otherwise I’d have done better. First one I shot at, I missed. As soon as they realised I had a weapon, they ran. I went after them, but I was too cautious. Thought that maybe they’d be luring me in, Norman style.’

‘Norman style?’ said Harris.

The Lieutenant looked at the Captain frowning. Didn’t he know his military history? ‘Battle of Hastings, 1066: Harold’s doing well from his advantageous position, the Normans fake a retreat and the English lose all discipline and give chase, only to be caught in open ground and lose their advantage, lose the battle and lose England to the frogs.’

Harris nodded his understanding, again.

‘I gave them too much credit. They were just cowards. Not used to having people shoot back at them, probably.

‘By the time I got back to the beach they already had the engine going and the boat in the surf. I fired on them again; put one down. Whoever had that high calibre rifle started firing on me again. From that distance on a bobbing craft, he was good. Good enough to drive me back to cover.’

Sansom drank some water, gathering his thoughts, composing himself for what he had to tell next, what he had to remember and relive.

‘The guy I’d taken out in the undergrowth had a walkie-talkie. I found it and got myself to a place where I had a good view of the deck of The Rendezvous. I called them up. I couldn’t see any point in pissing about, so I told them that I had one of their crew and that he was alive and all they had to do was let my wife and daughter go. We could do an exchange.’

Sansom broke off again, the recollection of what was to happen seen again for the thousandth time. His eyes filled with tears. His voice became strained.

‘I won’t ever forget the voice of the man who I spoke to. He laughed at me, asked if I could see the ship. I told him that I could. I couldn’t know what he was going to do next. Through the binoculars I could see that he had everyone on deck. I could see Alison. Then they ran a plank out.

‘ “You like the idea of the past at sea, do you, Mr Sansom?” he said. He had my name already. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “Allow me to show you how much that fool’s life means to me.” Using a boathook, he forced one of the men out on to the plank.

‘“Are you looking, Mr Sansom?” he said. “Of course you are.” He waved at me, drew a pistol from his belt and shot him. He crumpled into the water. The screams of the others followed the noise of the shot across the water.

‘“Now let me offer you a deal, Mr Sansom,” he said. “I’m going to count to ten; if I don’t see you on that beach with your arms in the air before I get there, your wife is next. One.” I jumped down from the tree. “Two.” And ran. “Three. Hurry, Mr Sansom. Four. Bring her here.” My foot got caught in some vines and I fell. “Five.” I was too far out. I knew I wouldn’t get there. “Six. That’s it, Mrs Sansom, out on the board. Seven. Mr Sansom, I see sharks. Eight. Steady now, Mrs Sansom.” Before he said nine I was on the sand, jumping up and down waving my arms in the air. There was nothing else I could do. “Ten. Say goodbye, Mr Sansom,” he said.

‘And then I was knocked off my feet for the second time. The bastard had got me on the beach as target practice. The bullet nicked my side. The walkie-talkie landed next to me. I lay there numb; my body had gone into shock. I had to listen to the screaming on The Rendezvous, to the executions. Every few seconds the stillness of the island was punctuated with the noise of a pistol shot. I must have lost consciousness for a minute or two.

‘If he’d sent a boat for me immediately, I wouldn’t be here now.’ Sansom looked again at his questioner. ‘Most of the time since, I’ve wished that I wasn’t. Can you imagine what it’s like waking up night after night seeing that in your nightmares, hearing the screaming of the condemned and dying? It doesn’t diminish, Captain. And somewhere in that screaming is the one you love – even if she’s unrecognisable.’

The Captain stared at the man in the bed. For the first time in his career as a military policeman, he didn’t know what to say, how to sympathise, unable to empathise. A click from the Dictaphone shattered the silence, making him start.

Captain Harris removed the tape from the machine, labelled it and inserted another, deliberately labouring his actions to give Sansom time to collect himself.

‘Are you all right to carry on?’ he said.

Lieutenant Sansom indicated that he was. The second recording began.

‘I was shot, nicked, a flesh wound – plenty of blood but no real damage. They were too busy on The Rendezvous slaughtering people to keep an eye out for me. I knew they’d come though.

‘I got myself up the beach and into the trees, made it to my feet and just stumbled as far as I could into the undergrowth. I found somewhere, hid myself as best I could and then I must have passed out again.

‘It was dark when I came to. The bleeding had stopped. I was weak but I wasn’t going to die. Not then, not there.

‘As the sun came up, I made my way back to the beach. There was no sign of Holdstock or the guy I’d shot in the surf. They’d been back. They must have looked for me. They’d smashed up the few things we’d taken from the boat.’

‘What did you do then?’

‘There was some food that wasn’t spoiled and bottled water that they’d missed. Probably hadn’t expected me to survive. They’d been sloppy and careless. If they hadn’t, I’m sure I wouldn’t have made it through the first week. If they had come back for me then, I wouldn’t have had a chance.’

‘But they didn’t?’

‘No, they didn’t. They never came back.’

‘Let me get this straight,’ said Harris. ‘Are you saying that you spent the next year alone just surviving on an island in the Pacific?’

‘Twelve months, eight days to be precise. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Sounds made up. Sounds like the ravings of a madman; in this day and age to be marooned for a year on a tiny dot of land in the Pacific. I’d find it hard to swallow myself if I hadn’t endured it.’

There was a long moment’s quiet as the two men stared at each other. Harris looked away and then at his watch. He’d been told by the medical staff not to overdo his enquiries and he could see that Sansom’s recollections had drained him both physically and emotionally. He turned off the recording machine, signalling the end of the day’s debriefing. They agreed that they would resume the following day.

Captain Harris gathered up his things. As he reached the ward door, he turned to Sansom, intending to make some encouraging, understanding remark, offer something. But already the Lieutenant’s eyes were shut, the thong with his wedding band twisted tightly in his grasp.

 

***

 

 

3

The tape recorder whirred on for several seconds, indicating that the interview had ended. An impressive antique long-case clock marked the passage of time in the corner of the room. The visitor leaned across and turned the machine off while the politician, his elbows resting on the arms of his chair and his fingers steepled in front of him, remained pensive and distant.

When Bishop eventually spoke, his expression was grim. ‘We’re accepting all he says as true, are we?’

‘Our man conducting the interview finds him wholly convincing,’ said the Brigadier. ‘He’ll be undergoing some psychiatric screening, so that we can get a better picture of his mental state, but for now, yes, we’re accepting it. There’s no reason not to and no appealing alternative.

‘Over ten years in and an exemplary service record prior to all this, and his physical change, I’m assured, is consistent with his story. He still needs to answer questions regarding his time on the island and his resurfacing, especially regarding the events of last week.

‘Harris, chap who’s debriefing him, will be back at it today. Of course, we still only have his word for everything. Proof could be a little difficult to come by. It would almost certainly include some kind of visit to the island in question. But that’s all for the future.’

Bishop ran his hands across his face and through his thinning hair, stood up, removed his jacket and went to the window of his office. ‘Thanks for this, Peter,’ he said. ‘Much appreciated. How’s Jean?’

‘Bearing up. It’ll take her a long time.’

‘Of course. Nasty business. Give her our best would you?’

‘Thank you, I will. Do you want to see him?’

‘Not yet. Eventually, though, yes. I’d like to hear the whole story first. That all right with you?’ He asked the question merely as a courtesy. The answer was never in doubt.

‘As soon as we have today’s tapes, I’ll have them sent over. Give me a call when you want to talk to him and I’ll arrange it,’ said the Brigadier.

The two men shook hands, a symbol of their shared complicity in something as well as part of their leave-taking.

 

*

 

Lieutenant Sansom had clearly moved on to solid foods judging by the empty bowl on the tray in front of him. Several sheets of plain paper lay strewn about the bedcovers, written on in pencil. There were some crude drawings.

The men exchanged a greeting.

‘What’s all this?’ said Harris.

‘I’m thinking that I need my own account of what goes between us here. I also have a life to get back sometime. Plans need to be made.’

‘Good to see that you’re recovering and looking forward.’

A nurse came in and removed the food tray.

Captain Harris arranged himself as he had done the day before, his tape recorder positioned ready. ‘I can arrange for copies of these tapes, or transcripts, if you’d like them,’ he said.

‘Thanks. I’d appreciate that. Where do you want me to go from?’

‘Let’s keep it chronological, shall we? Just take up from where you left off yesterday.’

Sansom thought for a long moment. To the Captain he seemed more composed than the day before – more in charge of himself and his emotions.

‘The wound healed quickly and cleanly enough,’ he began. ‘Like I said, it was really just a flesh wound. No infection. I rested for a couple of days, eating what I had, gradually. I suppose I must have been in a state of shock. I’ve been in war zones, fought in them. I’ve seen what hate can do to people, but what happened on Jackson was different; it was personal. I lost my family. Murdered. It’s hard to remember accurately those first few days, how I felt up here.’ He tapped himself on the forehead.

‘I stayed close to the sea. I soon had to accept that they weren’t coming back and that unless I got off my arse and started to organise myself I wasn’t going to last long. And I didn’t want to die of self-pity.’

Sansom looked hard at his interviewer. Was he seeking judgement? wondered Harris.

‘I’d seen something of the island already. It wasn’t without its resources and I wasn’t without some knowledge and experience of survival in hostile environments. Thanks to the Army for that.

‘And I was motivated. Maybe it would have been easy for me to have just given up, but it’s not in my nature. I think it’s how I dealt with my loss, my situation. It sounds perverse but I’ve had a long time to think about things. In a strange way, I believe that I somehow took strength from what had happened, my anger, my desperation, my hatred of those who had done this to me, to my family, to all of us.

‘I’ve heard it said that hate is empty. I don’t agree. My hatred for those cowardly bastards overflows with ideas of how I’m going to hurt them when I catch up with them. But that’s for another time and place.’ He smiled thinly at the military policeman. ‘At times, especially early on, the sense of loss and bereavement was almost unbearable, overwhelming.

‘I went into survival mode. I found a reason and a focus for my continued existence. Simple, primitive, basic human emotion: revenge. Someone was responsible for what had happened and there were several directly involved – the South African on The Rendezvous, for example, and the men with him. I used my hate, my longing for retribution, to fuel my need to survive.’

‘Describe the island for me,’ said Harris, moving the man away from the feelings that threatened to overshadow his account of events.

‘I suppose it must have been about three miles in length and two across at its widest point. As I said before, it rose to quite a height towards the centre. There was plenty of vegetation and cover, lots that I was able to utilise. There were coconut trees and birds, and a small population of wild pigs. I never saw evidence of any other kind of life apart from bugs. There were sections of beach that shelved very quickly to considerable depth and others that were rocky and shallow. Over time, I found that both types afforded me opportunities for gathering food.’

‘What about water?’

‘Obviously, water was my biggest priority. I was lucky in that it rained just about every night in the early days, so I was able to collect enough water to see me through the beginning. The island was clearly formed as a result of some subterranean volcanic upheaval. The peculiarities of the formation had created some natural basins that I was able to use for water storage when it rained. Some of them already held small amounts of fresh water.’

‘And shelter?’ said the Captain.

‘Initially, I used the awning material that we had taken to the island from The Rendezvous. Most of it had been damaged in some way, but I was still able to make something from it. As I established myself on the island, though, I realised that I needed something that was stouter and could offer me better protection from the elements. I also needed a better position. I made myself a more permanent shelter out of the vegetation that was lying around.’

Harris sat back and bit the end of his pen. ‘You’ve got to admit, it’s quite a story.’ Sansom shot him a hostile look. ‘I’m not saying I don’t believe you, but you’d have to admit, it’s fantastic.’

Sansom shrugged. ‘You asked me for my account of things. That’s what I’m giving you. When you need your proof, it’s all there on an island in the Pacific Ocean. I know that place like the back of my hand. I kept a record of every day.’ The Captain raised his eyebrows. ‘The morning that we went across to the island, one of the women took her sketch book and some pencils. I found them among the things that had been left behind. I’d been there about a week before I realised that I should keep a record of everything that had happened.

‘If I wasn’t going to survive, I wanted to die knowing that there was some documentation of what happened. And if I was to survive then I never wanted to forget. After that, I kept on writing; every day that I was on that place I made an entry. I made it part of the routine that I needed to help me stay sane.’

‘And where is that now?’

‘Safe.’

The Captain decided not to pursue it. ‘So, you were on the island for twelve months?’ Sansom nodded. ‘And in all that time, no one else visited the island, like you did?’

Sansom drew a deep breath, exhaling slowly. ‘The island was visited once.’ He closed his eyes and shook his head at the recollection of an opportunity missed, so much time wasted.

‘I’d been there about six months. In the beginning, I had taken to touring the island twice a day – part of a routine to keep myself busy – once in the morning, once in the evening, but it was taking it out of me and I didn’t have the food or water to replace the energy I was using in that heat.

‘Then I became involved in a project and I let my touring slip. I missed some days. When I resumed, I discovered evidence that people must have pulled in at the island – a couple of empty wine bottles and the remains of a barbecue.’ Sansom gave an embarrassed shrug.

‘That’s real irony. I was on one side of the island keeping myself busy, trying desperately to build some kind of craft to get me out of there, and over the other side was a boat that could have taken me off, saved me six months of my life.’ He met the Captain’s gaze. ‘I’ve learnt not to dwell on some aspects of the past that I can do nothing about. I have bigger things to focus on.’

The intensity of the Lieutenant’s stare left Harris in no doubt about what he was referring to. A long moment of silence dragged out between them.

‘After that,’ continued Sansom, ‘I never missed a day – one tour in the morning and one in the evening, but I never saw another soul for six months. That’s the next time that someone came to visit my island.’

‘So, you didn’t use the craft that you were building to get away?’ said Harris, trying to deflect something of the depressive atmosphere that had fallen on the room.

Sansom gave an uncomfortable impression of a smile. ‘No. I spent months cobbling together the best raft that I could, but in the end I just didn’t believe it was going to carry me to safety and survival. And survival was paramount for me. In my sane mind, I wasn’t going to risk my life on something that I just didn’t believe in and against such odds.

‘It floated. It was OK for pissing about near the shore, for fishing, but that was it. Also, water had become a bit of a problem, possibly through a change of season. Rainfall had eased off and I had barely enough to keep going on the island – and that was only made possible because of a filtration system I had rigged. At the time I probably could have just about gathered and filtered enough water for a week at sea.

‘On the island, at least I was able to replenish my supply. And of course food would be a problem. I still felt I had a better chance of getting off the island if I just sat tight, kept myself healthy and active, and waited until a ship passed close enough for me to attract someone, or another yacht called in.’

Harris couldn’t help imagining himself in a similar position. What would he have done? Gambled everything in a perilous bid for freedom? The Pacific was a big place to float about aimlessly in the hope of being noticed. ‘How long do you think you could have gone on like that?’ he said.

Sansom made a face, ‘I don’t know. I’d lost a lot of weight, but that had seemed to stabilise. I became used to my existence. I had routine. I was healthy and fit enough, despite the wound that I’d sustained. I had a good shelter – some of the storms were bloody awful – nature’s bounty wasn’t exactly an endless resource and to be honest my diet was certainly lacking certain food groups, but on the plus side there were the pigs and the fishing was good and plentiful, although it could get dangerous.’

‘Tell me.’

‘There was a significant shark population around the outer reefs – where the best fish were to be had. More than once when I was out there on the raft I had a close encounter with them.

‘But I think that my mind was my biggest threat to my survival. Even though I kept as busy as I could, I had to limit my exertions at times because of the risks of the heat and humidity to my health, and lack of sustenance and water. Those were my most threatening times.’

He stared hard at the Captain. ‘You can’t understand that until you’ve experienced what I did – the loss, the anger, the frustration, the helplessness and hopelessness of a situation, the time involved. It can make one irrational.’

‘How do you mean?’ said Harris, once again seeking elaboration for the benefit of the tape.

‘Three months after the visit to the island that I’d missed, I lost it completely. I’d had enough of waiting, everything was running low and the climate had become incredibly oppressive. I suppose I went a bit mad.’

‘What happened?’

‘I tried to get away on the raft. Took nothing – no food, no water. Just got on, pushed off, cut the mooring line and paddled for the ocean. I lost control. When I think about it now I know that at the time I just didn’t care any more.’

Sansom gave a little self-conscious laugh, the first time he had displayed anything like light behaviour. ‘I didn’t get far. The sea was kind to me in a cruel sort of way. Let me get a little way out and then picked me up on the crest of a wave and dashed me back on the shore. Split the raft in two and that was the end of that.

‘I came to realise what a stupid, senseless thing I’d done. From then on I resigned myself to my position. I was determined simply to stay alive, stay as healthy and fit as I could, and stay sane. I made my survival my sole goal.’

‘And that was your situation for, what, a further three months?’

‘Yes, about that. It had to be only a matter of time and patience. Someday, someone would pay the island a visit or come close enough for me to attract attention. They had to. It was probable.’

‘Tell me about it,’ said Harris.

Again, Sansom became distant as he delved deep into a memory that clearly still held him in its emotional grip. ‘After the visitors that I’d missed, my daily routine began with a climb of the high ground – the climb I’d made on the day we arrived. It afforded a view from which I could see, more or less, the sea around the entire island. I must have climbed up it hundreds of times while I was there and yet each time I felt a pang of excitement, the hope that this would be the time I would see something other than sea. Like a marooned man’s rescue-scratch-card.’

‘And this time you did?’

‘Yes, this time I did. A small yacht was passing the island a mile or two out.’

Again for the benefit of the tape, the captain asked the obvious question, ‘What did you do?’

Sansom turned his head to grin at his interrogator. ‘By that time this was something I was well prepared for. I had spent some days, months before, collecting as much dead wood as I could from around the island and hauling it up to the top.

‘I’d dried it out in the sun and protected it from the elements. I’d even practised my fire-starting technique so that I had it down to as short a time as possible for me to get a blaze going.

‘The yacht was some way off and was heading away from the island. There was a minute or two when I thought I’d missed my chance. But I got a small fire going and soon I had quite a blaze up there, piled on some green fronds from the coconut trees, which created the most smoke, and then played my last card.

‘I still had the rifle that I’d taken from the man I’d killed, along with a few rounds. I fired into the air, just hoping that the report would carry across the ocean. If they didn’t see the smoke then maybe the sound would attract someone, just get their attention long enough to notice the smoke.

‘I felt sure anyone passing that island that saw a beacon on top of the place would have to investigate. What else could it be but a cry for help?’

‘And it worked,’ said Harris, finding himself completely gripped by the story.

Sansom nodded. He was temporarily unable to speak and Harris realised that Sansom’s eyes had moistened once more at the recollection of the intense relief that had not diminished with the passage of time; the realisation that his sentence was at an end.

‘Yes, it worked,’ he said, thickly. He paused to drink from his water. ‘The moment when I realised that the yacht was slowing, was putting about… it’s difficult for me to describe how that felt.

‘They anchored outside the reef and I saw a small dingy lowered into the water. I knew that they were coming. I got down to the beach as quickly as I could to meet them, stopping only to conceal the gun. I didn’t want to frighten them off.

‘The one thing I realised I hadn’t prepared myself for was the initial meeting of any rescuers. I stood on the shore not knowing what I was going to say to them. But as they came up through the surf, I could see from the looks on their faces that I wasn’t going to need to explain my position.

‘I’d forgotten what a state I must have looked. Obviously, I hadn’t had a chance to look at myself properly for a year. I’m sure you can imagine: a modern-day Ben Gunn.’ Harris nodded. ‘They were German,’ said Sansom. ‘A family. It was the father and teenage son who came to the island. The children spoke pretty good English.’

‘What did you tell them?’

‘I kept it as near to the truth as I could. I didn’t see any point in scaring them. I told them that I’d been shipwrecked with my sailing partner who had died and had been surviving on the island until help showed up.’

‘You know that as part of the verification of your story we’ll have to find them, speak to them.’

‘Of course. I have their names and the name of their yacht, all their details. It’s all in my record.’

There was clearly nothing that could be done then except to encourage Sansom to talk, to tell his story and check up on the details later. ‘Tell me what happened then.’

‘They accepted my version of events and agreed to take me with them. What else could they do? It didn’t take me long to gather anything that I wanted to take with me and within an hour I was on their yacht. It was certainly not ideal having an extra body in their boat and we agreed that, if it were possible, they would pass me on to a bigger vessel if we came across one before they reached their destination.’

‘Which was?’

‘They were heading for South America. As it turned out, I was only with them three days. We made radio contact with a cargo ship making its way to England from New Zealand, again I have all the details of that in my record,’ he said. ‘But I suppose you could check up on that for yourself through a different route.’

‘How so?’

‘We were at sea for six weeks. When we docked at Tilbury I disappeared, got to shore before the authorities could intervene. It must have been reported.’

Harris nodded again. He could easily check up on that. ‘Why?’ he said. ‘Why not come to the authorities and let them take charge of things? You’d done nothing wrong. You’d have been looked after.

‘The British authorities could have investigated, helped you get justice. And of course, as I’ve already said, you were and still are technically a member of the Armed Forces. Sooner or later it becomes absent without leave.’ He suddenly realised how pompous his remarks must have sounded to the man who had lost everything.

‘I didn’t want legal justice, Captain Harris. My wife and daughter had been murdered. I wanted answers, information – and I wanted revenge.’

Sansom’s cold blue eyes snared Harris’s. For the first time since meeting the Lieutenant, Harris felt a chill of unease at the realisation of what this man’s purpose had become, how dangerous he potentially was. He shifted in his seat. ‘And how did you propose to do that?’

‘I knew that Harper, the UK agent for the trip, was involved in our change of itinerary. It was a place to start. I could also imagine how newsworthy my reappearance would have become. If he heard about it and he had something to hide, I could lose the advantage. My advantage was that no one knew who I was, let alone that I was alive, and I wanted to keep it that way.’

‘And your obligations to the Army, to the families of the other people who lost their lives in the incident? Don’t you think you owed them something?’

‘In time, yes. But I had my own obligations – obligations to my dead wife and dead daughter and obligations to myself.’

‘I’m sure I need hardly remind you that the British legal system takes a very dim view of people taking the law into their own hands, especially when it ends in murder.’

Sansom’s face clouded. ‘He died then? Harper?’

‘Yes, didn’t you know?’ For answer, Sansom shook his head. ‘Perhaps if you’d come to us in the right and proper way…’ he trailed off, conscious of the bullying, judgemental tone he had adopted. ‘What did you hope to achieve by tackling the man?’

Sansom’s answer came in dejected tones at the realisation that his best connection to the events that had cost him everything was dead. ‘I told you – answers, information. I had a very long time to think about what happened while I was stuck on that God-forsaken place.

‘I’ve found out a few things since I’ve been back, as well. The Internet is one of the wonders of our society. No ransom demands, so that rules out kidnapping and piracy. In fact, there was not a sign of anyone, no wreckage, not a hint of why it happened – a complete fucking mystery.

‘But there must have been a motive, a reason why people would do something like that. No one just hijacks a vessel, kills everyone on board, leaves no trace, asks for nothing and disappears, particularly not a group of South African mercenaries in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.’

Now, Harris could only sit silently agreeing with him as the cogs of his mind processed the logic that Sansom spoke.

 

*

 

‘As this morning, keep it chronological,’ said Harris, as the pair resumed after a break, in which Harris had set someone at Army HQ checking verifiable details of Sansom’s story. ‘Go from when you left the ship.’

‘Getting away from the ship was easy enough. I had the freedom of it while I was on board. They were very good to me. I didn’t enjoy betraying their trust. I left a note letting them know that they should report the circumstances of my passage and disappearance to the proper authorities, not just to cover themselves, but because I needed it officially documented in case I got myself into a position such as this.

‘It was just a matter of slipping over the side as we approached the port. I’d taken the opportunity during my time on board to make myself look less like a shipwreck victim and they’d provided me with clothing. So, as soon as I reached the shore I could blend straight in.’

‘You had money?’

‘No, but I didn’t need any.’

‘Why is that?’

Lieutenant Sansom met his interrogator’s stare. ‘Captain Harris, so far I’ve been completely open and honest with you about everything that I can remember. I intend to keep it that way all the time that it involves just me and my actions.

‘I appreciate that my position is difficult and that I have acted outside of the law. However, I am not going to willingly implicate people who may have helped me and who could find themselves in trouble with the law for it. There is no need. For that reason, I can’t tell you why I didn’t need money and I can’t tell you where I stayed between the time I arrived back in England and my appearance at Harper’s.’

The information hung in the air between them for a few seconds until the Captain, having weighed up the importance of it, nodded acceptance of Sansom’s terms, for now.

 

*

 

When Sansom had crawled up the river bank of The Medway, soaking, cold and exhausted, he had known exactly who he was going to contact. Alison’s father had lived in London all his life. In his late sixties, he refused to abandon what had been the family home and the capital. He kept the Georgian townhouse going, preferring to rattle around on his own over four floors since his wife had died, rather than sell up for some retirement cottage on the Sussex coast and wait for death to pay him a visit. He kept himself busy and a car in his garage.

Once over the shock of the reverse charge phone call from the son-in-law he believed to be dead, he listened to directions and instructions and within two hours the two men were embracing tearfully in the car park of the local railway station.

Sansom hated involving the old man he’d come to see as a father figure; hated bringing such terrible news – the loss of his only daughter and grandchild – but there was no one else he could trust to keep the secret of his return to civilisation. The old man looked frail and a shadow of his former self. In retelling the events of the incident that had cost them both all the family that they had apart from each other, Sansom spared him the details of the executions. The loss alone was clearly harrowing enough for him.

Back at the townhouse, they had talked into the small hours of the next day. The old man had tried in vain to persuade his son-in-law to report to the authorities, to let the police deal with the man, Harper. He had tried to impress upon him the dangers and the recklessness of the course of action he was proposing. But when he realised that his son-in-law was resolute, was not to be deterred from personally discovering Harper’s involvement, then he could only promise his reluctant support.

Sansom stayed with his father-in-law for as long as it took him to rest, recuperate and organise. He took time to go through the personal possessions the old man had seen fit to save and bring to London from the home in East Sussex that had had to be sold when it seemed that he and his wife were dead. In this he was clinical; despite the heart-wrenching emotions that he found himself at the mercy of as he picked through knick-knacks and mementos, only photograph albums and important documentation were saved.

He visited the local library to use the Internet facilities, trying to discover anything he could of what was reported of the missing ship and to track down the business address of Harper Holdings.

Finally, he felt ready to face the man who was the only lead that he had to explain what had happened in the Pacific Ocean. He promised the old man before they parted that if a visit to Harper proved unfruitful then he would make himself known to the authorities and put his faith in the justice system to investigate the events that had seen men, women and children slaughtered in cold blood.

He gratefully accepted the money that the old man thrust upon him to see him through and his offer to return if and when he needed to under any circumstances. At the train station they embraced again and for the last time.

Sansom had one more task to perform before he called on Harper. He took the fast train from London to Ashford in Kent and from there the more sedate cross-country service to the village of Rye in East Sussex.

He arrived in the evening. Dusk was drawing in, although it was not the accompanying dip in temperature that seemed to chill his core. He had known that this would be difficult – visiting the place where he had shared a home with his wife and daughter. His father-in-law had told him that, as the only surviving relative of the pair, it had fallen to him to deal with their estate after they had been declared dead by a coroner some months before.

The house had had to be sold. A home that the Sansoms had bought together. The first home that he had ever owned. A home that they had renovated together, sweated over, fought over, conceived their daughter in and lived together in as a family when he was on leave.

He booked himself into a hotel in a steep cobbled street, confident that even if he were to find himself in the company of someone that he recognised from his old life, his new appearance would make him virtually unrecognisable. Yet, he felt secure enough; he had had no friends in the town to speak of.

He ate at the hotel and later left to take advantage of the darkness that had descended upon the streets. He navigated his way through the historic narrow lanes until he found himself outside the house that was once his own.

The current occupiers had done nothing to alter the clapboard exterior that he and Alison had laboured long, hard hours to strip back, repair and repaint. Inside, he could see through net curtains a life being lived and enjoyed. Thinking it reckless to loiter, he wandered around to the communal alley that served as a rear entrance for all the properties in the small terrace. Satisfying himself that all was as he remembered, he left and walked back to his rooms.

 

*

 

‘So you tracked Harper down from the Internet?’ said Harris

‘Correct.’

‘Will you tell me the details of the visit and how you came to be armed? We know that the weapon you had in your possession was an Iraqi Army issue pistol. Souvenir from your campaign out there?’

‘Yes.’

‘Of course, you must know that that in itself is a court martial offence?’

Sansom smiled at the Captain. ‘Of course, but that seems to be the least of my worries, wouldn’t you say?’

‘I suppose you’re right,’ said Harris, with a resigned and understanding sigh.

‘The weapon was something that I brought back from Iraq. Like you said, it was a souvenir. Everyone was doing it. I’d kept it at my home in East Sussex. It was well hidden and I knew that if whoever occupied my home hadn’t done any severe restructuring work then it would probably still be where I had concealed it.

‘I wasn’t about to take the risk of seeing a man who was potentially ruthless enough to be a part of the massacre that I had witnessed without a weapon. Besides, as well as for my own safety, I needed to scare the shit out of him.

‘If you check with the police, I’m sure they’ll have a report of a recent break-in at my old home address. I needed to break a window to get in. I didn’t take anything except the gun. I even left fifty quid on the kitchen table to pay for the repair.’ Harris raised his eyebrows at that.

‘I made my way down the south coast to Portsmouth where Harper lived. I watched him for a couple of days, getting a feel for his movements and his company. And then I paid him the visit.’

‘What would you have done if his wife had been in?’

‘Used her as leverage. I wanted her there.’

‘You’d have been disappointed if you’d thought that threatening her would get to him. I’ve met her. Certainly no love lost.’

Sansom shrugged. ‘Academic.’

‘How did you get in to the house?’

‘I knocked on the front door. When he opened it, I gave it a kick and sent him sprawling. Simple. Just like the movies. I knew he was guilty of complicity as soon as he understood who I was; it was written all over his face.

‘When I showed him the gun, he fell apart. Jabbered on about how he hadn’t known that anyone was going to be hurt. That he was nothing to do with what happened. That he’d been threatened to change the itinerary or face consequences himself. He didn’t say what the threats were or who they were from. He told me that he had evidence in his study. That he would show me, tell me everything he knew.’

‘And did he?’

There was a brief pause as Sansom remembered the way events had unfolded. He scowled. ‘We were in his study. I had my pistol pointed at him. He was going through his desk drawers. I was sloppy. I remember an almighty bang and a piercing pain in my stomach. I fired reflexively, I suppose. I knew that I’d hit him because he went down. As I lay there drifting into unconsciousness, I realised that the bastard has shot me through his fucking desk.’

‘And you, Lieutenant, shot him clean through his left eye.’

 

***

 

 

4

Sansom was standing at the open window of his hospital room looking out over the expanse of the military base when Captain Harris next visited. His dressing gown hung on him as it might on a coat hanger, the bones of his shoulders sticking out against the thin material.

The heavily-tanned skin of his exposed legs and bare feet contrasted starkly with the light fabric. A wheeled contraption stood next to him, supporting a bag of fluid that fed into a vein in his arm. In his hand was the dictation device that Harris had left with him, just in case he remembered anything and wanted to record it quickly and easily, to fill in some of the blanks.

Harris had company.

Sansom turned as the door opened. He recognised the newcomer immediately, although he seemed to have aged considerably since the last time he had met him. Automatically, he adopted a respectful stance and pocketed the recording device.

Captain Harris made introductions, ‘Morning, Lieutenant Sansom this is…’

‘Mr Bishop, Minister for Defence Procurement,’ finished Sansom, clearly puzzled. ‘I did my time in Iraq. You paid us a flying visit. We actually shook hands.’

‘Did we really?’ said Bishop, genuinely surprised. ‘Well, I shook a lot of hands out there, so I hope you can forgive me if I don’t remember you, Lieutenant.’ He offered his hand again and Sansom took it. ‘It’s former Minister now, by the way.’

‘Sorry to hear that, sir,’ said Sansom. ‘There was a feeling among the troops that you got things done.’

‘Thank you, Lieutenant. It’s nice to hear sometimes that all one’s efforts weren’t completely unappreciated.’

Bishop turned to Harris and said, ‘Would you mind giving us some privacy for a few minutes, Captain? Take yourself off to the canteen or something. I’ll come and find you when I’m finished. That all right?’

Harris exchanged a quick look with Sansom but got nothing out of it. With no good reason to refuse, he did as he was asked and went in search of refreshment.

Harris had been surprised when his CO had notified him of his escort duties for the afternoon. Knowing what he did, he could understand that the tragedy that had devastated both men’s lives would involve them meeting eventually, but he hadn’t expected that the former Minister would be so quickly aware of Sansom’s existence and then paying him a visit in his hospital room. The clandestine nature of their arrival at the base and Bishop’s lack of entourage had made the episode only more puzzling.

Bishop indicated a pair of chairs in front of the window. ‘Let’s sit down, shall we? How is your wound healing?’

‘Well, thank you, sir.’

‘Good. Good,’ said the politician.

Bishop placed his elbows on the chair’s arm rests and set the tips of his fingers together, bouncing the ends of his digits gently against each other. He stared at Sansom, appraising him, and the soldier had little choice but to stare straight back.

‘I’m going to be completely honest with you, Lieutenant,’ said Bishop, as though still weighing up decisions in his own mind. ‘There really is no other way that I can see.’

Sansom sat patiently, intrigued now by the visit and the visitor. With his senses settling down after the surprise, he slid his hand into the pocket of his gown and, without quite knowing why, pushed the record button on the dictation machine.

‘I’ve listened to the tapes that you’ve made with Captain Harris with great interest,’ said Bishop. ‘It’s a hell of an experience.’ Sansom sat expressionless, his mind churning over the reasons for Bishop to be there, wondering what he was building up to? ‘A harrowing experience,’ went on the politician. ‘You have my most sincere sympathies for your personal loss. It is a truly terrible business.’

Sansom nodded once. ‘Thank you, sir.’

Bishop took a deep breath, a signal that the necessary condolences were out of the way and the time had come to move on to the purpose of his visit. ‘I’m not here in any official capacity, Lieutenant. This is purely personal. And, if the truth be known, what I’m about to discuss with you would cost me everything if it were to get out. So, before I continue, I would like you to give me your word that whatever we discuss here will be kept between ourselves. If you don’t like what I have to offer, what I suggest, I’d like to think that I can leave without worrying about it coming back to bite me in the arse. Do I make myself clear?’

‘Perfectly, sir,’ said Sansom, hearing the tension of his confusion developing in his voice.

‘Besides,’ said Bishop, his face grim, ‘I’m too bloody old to waste what little time I have left pissing about.’ A strained and serious look clouded the politician’s features. ‘You weren’t the only one to lose somebody out there, Lieutenant.’ His tired grey eyes looked up at Sansom from under neatly-trimmed eyebrows.

Sansom tried to read the emotion that was being projected towards him and found himself wondering whether the intense sadness that he detected was genuine or a practised politician’s tool.

‘I lost a son,’ said Bishop. ‘My son was one of the crew. Do you remember David?’

‘Yes, I do,’ said Sansom, as shocked by the revelation as he could have been by anything that Bishop might have said. ‘Tall lad, early twenties, mop of curly blond hair?’

‘That’s him,’ said Bishop. His features softened slightly and his eyes assumed a moistness that was new.

‘I had no idea, sir. I’m sorry.’

‘Thank you. No reason why you should.’

‘He was a nice lad, smart, patient with the passengers, I remember, and a competent sailor. He clearly loved the sea.’

Bishop was nodding and smiling back at him. ‘You’ve understood him well, Lieutenant. Indeed, the sea was in his blood. His grandfather spent his whole working life in the Royal Navy. Admiral by the time he retired.

David was living out a dream on that ship. He’d come down from Oxford the year before with the world at his feet. Could have gone anywhere, done anything, but wouldn’t consider his future until he’d put some time in under sail – said it was something that he needed to do.’

He paused, collecting himself. ‘So you see, I share your loss. I understand how you must feel, how angry you must be, the need for revenge for their needless, senseless deaths.’

Sansom sat motionless now, wondering where the former Minister was driving the conversation. He detected an undertone of something dark and menacing in the man’s speech. ‘What is it exactly that you think I can help you with, sir?’

‘Yes, Lieutenant, of course, the point. I have your word that this will be kept between ourselves? Man to man, so to speak?’

Sansom nodded. A convoy of heavy ordnance rumbled by in the distance, gently reminding the soldier of where he was.

‘I want revenge,’ said Bishop. ‘For a terrible crime, for an unbearable loss. I want whoever was responsible for what happened out there to pay the price that they made my son pay for harming nobody, for living his life and fulfilling his dreams. I want them to pay for snuffing out not just his life but my own, too. You must know what I’m talking about.’

Sansom could feel the charge of energy between them, could see Bishop’s self control slipping. ‘I’ll never get over this loss. Will you? I want revenge,’ he repeated, ‘cold, merciless revenge.’ He allowed his remarks to hang in the air a moment, trying to gauge the soldier’s reaction. Eventually, breaking the silence, he said, ‘Do I shock you, Lieutenant? Have I misjudged you?’

‘I’m not shocked by what you’re feeling,’ said Sansom. ‘As someone who lost his wife and only child out there, I know exactly what it’s like. I’m just not sure that I understand what you’re suggesting.’

Encouraged by Sansom’s continued engagement, Bishop leaned forward in his seat. ‘What were you doing at that man’s house – armed? You wanted answers. You wanted to find whoever was responsible. You wanted revenge. And you wanted to make it personal, direct and quick. Am I wrong?’

Not waiting for Sansom’s response, he said, ‘That’s what I want. I want biblical justice. I want those responsible, each and every one of them, to suffer the same fate that they meted out to my son, to your wife and child and every other poor soul on that ship.’

Struggling to accept what he was hearing, and from whom, Sansom said, ‘Why not go through the proper justice systems?’

The politician snorted derisively. ‘Why didn’t you? Because you know what chance of bringing these people to justice exists even if you can ever track them down. And even if they were identified and brought to justice, what kind of justice could we expect for them: a few years in some comfortable prison, if some clever lawyer didn’t get them off altogether? What evidence is there apart from your testimony, Lieutenant? What chance of a conviction? It will be your word against theirs, if you can ever find them, if you can ever bring them to court.

‘And forgive me, but a year on a desert island, by your own admission suffering bouts of mental illness, do you think that any half-decent lawyer wouldn’t tear your testimony apart, destroy your credibility to get their client off?’ Bishop sagged back into his chair, shaking his head at his perception of it all.

‘But in your position,’ said Sansom, ‘with your connections and influence, surely you could accomplish something, get justice for your loss.’

Bishop grunted. ‘Acer,’ he said. ‘Up until you re-surfaced, I didn’t even know that I should be looking for someone in connection with my son’s death. Then I find that there are two people who might know something, only thanks to you one of them is dead – probably the one with the most answers.

‘Besides,’ – and again the former Minister became intent, a vicious glint in his eye – ‘the kind of justice that the system could mete out isn’t what I’m looking for. I want blood and retribution, not bullshit. I don’t have the time it would take to pursue this through the proper channels. I can help you and you can help me.’

‘What do you mean? In what way?’

‘Look at your position. What do you think is going to happen to you when you are discharged from here? You killed a man and you’ll have to answer for it through the British legal system.

‘Consider the time and publicity. Do you believe that the opportunities for finding those responsible for this heinous crime will still exist when you’ve been through all of that? And that’s assuming that you are not found guilty of murder and given a custodial sentence. From what I understand, you were found at the victim’s home with the murder weapon still in your hand.

‘What would you plead? Self-defence? You might think that you had good reason to have been there, in that situation, but will a jury believe you? Will the law accept your reasons? Can you prove Harper’s involvement in anything? Can you take the chance?’

There was nothing new for Sansom in the arguments being made by the politician. Since regaining consciousness, he had found himself, naturally, anxiously preoccupied, considering his situation.

Whichever way he sliced it, he feared the worst. What Bishop was saying was all perfectly reasonable and right. Sansom recognized that his position looked anything but encouraging. He knew too that if he was to have any chance of avenging the death of his wife and child – the only thing that now mattered to him in his life – he must stay out of the public eye and out of detention.

But what was Bishop suggesting? What was he prepared to involve himself in? How far was he willing to go and what was he prepared to risk for his revenge?

‘Why me?’ said Sansom.

‘Because you were there, you have some idea of these people, and you’re personally and emotionally involved. You must want what I want. Why else would you have been at Harper’s with a gun?

‘You’ve proved that you’re motivated; motivated to a goal common with my own; motivated to do whatever it takes. Officially, these days my standing counts for very little in opening doors and getting people to act.

‘Unofficially, I’m not without influence; I have contacts and resources that I could supply you with. With that and our shared losses tying us together, we could trust each other. And you’re obviously a survivor, driven, skilled, resourceful and experienced.

‘The question is not why you, Acer, it’s why not you? We can help each other. Together we can avenge our loved ones.’ He continued to stare intently at the soldier, searching his face for a sign that he was willing to involve himself, to bind himself to what was being suggested. ‘And don’t forget that you have an ace up your sleeve,’ he continued, ‘you’re already dead.’

Sansom smiled at Bishop for that as the penny dropped for him – expendable and deniable, more like.

 

***

 

 

5

Besides, the kind of justice that the system could mete out isn’t what I’m looking for. I want blood and retribution, not bullshit.’ Sansom forwarded the recording. ‘I can help you and you can help me.’ The machine whirred. ‘Look at your position. What do you think is going to happen to you when you are discharged from here?’

And again. ‘Unofficially, I’m not without influence; I have contacts and resources that I could supply you with.’ Bishop’s malevolent purpose seeped out of the recorder. Sansom, lying on the hospital bed, replayed, listened, considered, and made his decision.

 

*

 

For three days, hospital staff aside, he had been without visitors or means of communication with the outside world – probably at Bishop’s instruction, he believed. His only company was a small television with a poor signal. He imagined the anguish that Gerald, Alison’s father, must be experiencing, waiting for word. However, the rest had been good for his body and his mind. He felt almost fully recovered.

No doubt verifiable aspects of his story were being validated. He had nothing to fear there, providing those involved in events he had described had reported them.

Bishop was right: he was in the shit, trouble about as serious as it got with both the police and the Army. Being realistic, he knew that he was facing the probability of a lengthy custodial sentence. Any chance that he could escape punishment through legal channels seemed slim and not worth the risk.

There was also the inevitable media sensationalism that would follow his exposure in a trial to factor into his decision-making. Those responsible for his losses would be alerted to his existence, and given recent events, guarded against his obvious intentions. The precious element of surprise would be lost. His opportunity for retribution would be made even more remote.

The longer he dwelt on matters, the more he came to realise that not only was Bishop offering him immunity for his actions and an opportunity to pursue those responsible for the atrocity of a year ago but also assistance towards that end. Thoroughly illegal and fantastic though it might all be, even by his own recent life experiences, Bishop’s offer seemed like the only hope he had.

And why should he not trust the politician? He too had suffered an obviously devastating loss. Why should he, like Sansom, not be seeking biblical justice? He would know as well as anyone the realistic chances of pursuing, finding and prosecuting to a satisfactory end criminals in other time zones and other political as well as legal jurisdictions.

Even if he should find himself suddenly free, Sansom reflected, without resources, contacts and assistance, any hope of hunting down his family’s killers could be an immeasurably-lengthy if not impossible task. Whereas joining forces with Bishop could provide him with assets, benefits and advantages that could help him fulfil his purpose. Was Bishop right? Did they need each other? Could they help each other?

Not for the first time, Sansom found himself wondering why Bishop would put himself in such a position. Why put himself in league with someone who was now, doubtless, branded a dangerous criminal? Why consort with someone who, if Sansom was to accept the politician’s offer, would be wanted by both the police and the Army?

What could be worth that risk to someone in his position? Why did he not take the information that Sansom had provided and use it in whatever way he chose to pursue justice that would satisfy him?

A sardonic smile spread across Sansom’s features as once again he came back to the only reason – accountability. While Sansom readily accepted that the two men shared a common goal, however illegal that may be, bound together and motivated by extreme grief, Sansom knew that to the politician he would be dispensable. He was isolated and, if Bishop managed their association like he expected, he would leave no evidence or trace of their alliance.

 

*

 

On the evening of the third day, a nurse Sansom hadn’t seen before delivered a package to him. Inside was a mobile telephone. He could not call out on it. He set it down and waited. Two hours later it rang.

A voice that Sansom didn’t recognise said, ‘Who is this?’

‘Sansom.’

‘My name is Smith. I’m to liaise with you should you be willing to accept my employer’s offer. Can you confirm acceptance?’

Smith, thought Sansom, how unoriginally clandestine. ‘Yes, I accept his offer.’

‘Leave your room in ten minutes. Turn left. Take the fire escape through the door at the end of the corridor. There will be a car waiting for you. Be prompt.’

The line went dead.

Sansom allowed himself a smile. And so it begins, he thought. They certainly weren’t giving him time to think. He had no clothes to wear other than the hospital gown he stood up in and nothing to take with him other than the miniature tape recording he had made and the phone. He fingered the wedding band that hung once more from the thong around his neck and thought of Alison.

When Sansom stepped out from his ward there was not a soul in sight. He took the route described to him. Finding a car with the rear door open at the foot of the fire escape, he got in.

‘Smith?’

‘No,’ said the driver. ‘Phone.’ He held out his hand for it. Sansom passed it across. ‘Now get down and cover yourself with that blanket.’

They sped across the tarmac to the exit of the barracks. Once clear of the base’s security check-point, Sansom uncovered himself and settled in for the ride.

They drove in silence until they eventually reached a row of Victorian terraced houses in a London street. The driver pulled in sharply at the kerb.

‘Number fourteen.’

The car left him alone on the pavement, barefoot. Pulling the flimsy gown around him, he approached the house and knocked. The door was opened by a stocky man somewhere in his fifties. His close-cropped hair and something about the way he held himself gave Sansom the idea that he was ex-military. He stood aside and Sansom entered.

The interior was sparsely furnished, dimly lit and needed modernising. He followed the man into the lounge. Seated in one of two armchairs was Bishop, a tumbler of amber liquid in his hand. He stood and came towards Sansom, his hand offered again in that practised politician’s way.

‘Welcome, Acer. Thank you for choosing this,’ he said. He dismissed the other man with a nod. ‘Drink?’

‘Thank you.’

‘Sit down, won’t you?’ said Bishop. He poured two fingers of whisky and passed it across. Sansom sipped it and savoured a favourite taste.

‘How are you feeling?

‘Fine, thank you, sir,’

‘Good. I understood that you were recovered enough. Sorry about the cloak and dagger stuff. I’m sure you understand. We’ll have a quick chat and then you can get out of that outfit. I understand there are clothes in one of the bedrooms that should fit you.

He looked seriously at Sansom. ‘Before we go any further, I’m going to be open and frank with you about a few things just in case you have any intentions other than those we have already discussed. I have to protect myself in all of this, you understand.’

Sansom understood. He nodded and sipped his drink.

‘There is no record of my visit to you in the hospital and this will be the last time that we meet. All contact will be made through Mr Smith, the gentleman outside. If you have intentions of contacting anyone, your father-in-law for example – yes, of course we know about the assistance that he gave you on your return,’ he said, in response to Sansom’s change of expression – ‘please, think again. It would be safer for all concerned if you were to let sleeping dogs lie. Do I make myself clear?’

The thinly-veiled threat to Gerald was obvious. Again, Sansom glimpsed what the man in front of him was capable of and resolved to treat him with professional respect. After all, he didn’t have to like the man to work with him, use him.

‘Perfectly clear,’ said Sansom.

‘Excellent,’ said Bishop, smiling again. ‘Remember that, above all, I want what you want in this. We have to be able to trust each other. Now,’ he continued, ‘why don’t you go upstairs and get out of those rags and then we can make a start on getting you up to speed on what we have so far?’

Sansom was keen to get some proper clothing on. The psychological tactic of having him sit exposed and vulnerable in the hospital gown while Bishop had talked with him had not been lost on Sansom.

Smith was waiting outside. ‘First on the right,’ he said, nodding up the stairs. Sansom followed the direction. He entered a bedroom. Clothes were laid out on the bed, shoes on the floor.

As he was dressing, the front door banged. He looked out through the drawn blinds to see a figure with the hood of a coat pulled up walking away from the house.

Smith was waiting for him at the foot of the stairs.

‘He had to go,’ he said. ‘So do we.’

The two men left the house and walked a short distance in silence to an empty car.

On the tiled kitchen floor of the house they had just vacated the owner lay, now deceased, eyes wide, his throat cut; a pool of crimson liquid surrounded him, already beginning to congeal.

 

*

 

Smith drove slowly. ‘Hungry?’

‘I could eat,’ said Sansom. ‘How am I supposed to have escaped from Headley Court?’

‘That’s up to you,’ said Smith. ‘You’re the escapee.’

‘And the police, what are they to be told? If they believe that I’ve escaped, won’t they be looking for me?’

‘Officially, you’re dead again. You died as a result of complications that arose from a combination of your injuries and ill-advised travel. That’s the way we’d like to keep it: nice and simple. Everyone happy. Case closed.’

Smith turned to look at Sansom. ‘If this partnership shouldn’t work out, however, the Army will be forced to admit an embarrassing cover-up and loss of a prisoner. You will find yourself a very wanted man with little sympathy from any quarter, regardless of your personal losses.

‘If you should fuck up, become a threat to us, you’d better hope that the police find you first. That doesn’t come from Bishop, by the way, that comes from me. Are we clear?’ The little speech was delivered matter-of-factly, without malice or viciousness, but Sansom doubted none of it.

‘Crystal.’

‘Good. Bishop’s taking a big chance on you, putting a lot of faith in you. I hope you won’t let him down.’

‘Remember that I’m also putting a lot of faith in you. I hope you can deliver on the promises he has made.’

Smith smiled without warmth. ‘Don’t you worry about us.’

 

*

 

They pulled into the car park of an all-night cafe. The atmosphere inside was muggy with the trapped warmth of heaters and kitchen equipment in the unventilated space. The windows ran with condensation, steam escaped the urn, council street-cleaners sat around a pair of tables taking a break from their toil, their dirty fluorescent jackets draped carelessly over chairs. The scent of sweat and fry-ups filled the air.

Sansom chose a place out of the way in a corner while Smith ordered. Settling himself at the table, Smith took a large padded manila envelope from his bag and placed it between them.

‘Don’t take out anything that we don’t need to be seen. Inside is the new you. British passport – not in your name, of course. We borrowed a mugshot from Army records.

‘There’s a wallet with a driving licence and a few quid to get you started, debit card, credit card to a new account that’s been set up for you. Try not to take the piss. Bishop is a very wealthy man, Mr Fallon – your new name, by the way – might as well start getting used to it. He’s prepared to fund you completely until either you achieve some success or die trying.’

‘And after that?’

‘After that, we will have to wait and see. First things first.’

Not for the first time in the last three days, Sansom wondered what Bishop would have in store for him if and when this ended. And not for the first time he doubted that it would be handshakes and slaps on the back. More than likely Bishop would not be comfortable with someone walking around with shared secrets. But like the man said, first things first.

‘Mobile telephone – contract in your name, debited from your account – and charger,’ continued Smith. ‘Never turn it off. And he thought that you would need a watch.’

Sansom withdrew the timepiece. He allowed himself to be impressed by the name and the craftsmanship. He put it on and said, ‘He was confident that I would accept his offer.’

‘Did you ever feel that you had a choice?’ Smith gave him an appraising stare. ‘The loss of his son nearly broke him. He was everything to him. He lost his grip on things for a while. Cost him his Ministerial post. He’s come to terms with it more now but, as you’ve seen, his desire for revenge is very strong. I’m sure he would do just about anything he could within his own reasoning to have those responsible permanently removed.’

The food arrived. They ate.

‘There’s also paperwork in there,’ said Smith, indicating the envelope. ‘We’ve done some poking around in Harper’s business affairs. Seems that he has, had, a rather disreputable business partner – South African, name of Victor Botha.

‘He’s very wealthy, very connected, very determined and a very nasty piece of work. His business modus operandi is to find companies and business ventures that are in financial difficulty – Harper’s tall ship business was in so deep to his creditors he should have traded it in for a submarine – make them a partnership offer and when he has his grubby fingers in their pie ups the insurance premiums, inflates the value of the assets and arranges events by which he can claim huge sums.

‘He has no scruples about how he makes his money. Many have died because of him and his practices.’

Sansom pushed his plate away, though food was still on it.

‘The men responsible for the death of my family were South African.’

‘So I understand. But don’t think that Botha would have been one of them. He has a close and loyal group of his own countrymen – most of them ex-military – who do his dirty work for him. He rarely ventures out of his very well protected estate.’

‘And where is that?’

‘Istanbul.’

‘Why there?’

‘Opportunities and contacts. Huge city with a massive, ambitious and hungry population. Istanbul’s experiencing something of a renaissance as the gateway to the new land of opportunity. It’s cosmopolitan, dynamic, busy and eager for business, whoever’s doing it.

‘In a struggling world economy Istanbul is doing very nicely, thank you. It’s east meets west. Botha has one foot in Europe, the other in Asia. And he can take advantage of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world running right through the centre of the city.

‘On top of that, money will buy you a lot of blind eyes and anything that your heart desires. There is also the not inconsiderable additional factor that he has a Turkish wife, and children by her. As a good Turkish daughter, she won’t live far from her extended family.’

Sansom fiddled with the ring still strung around his neck, listening to and watching Smith intently. Finally, he was learning something useful.

‘Botha would certainly have had no problems about ordering the massacre that you describe. From his reputation, his right hand man, Lucifer de Beirs, would have no attack of conscience about carrying out such instructions. He’s a sociopath. Diagnosed. You’ll not miss him in a crowd – a huge man, black as the ace of spades.

‘There’s a flight leaving for Istanbul tomorrow from Gatwick and you have a seat on it. Ticket’s in the bag. To be honest, the quicker you’re out of the country the better for all concerned.’

Something troubled Sansom. ‘How much could he have made from killing all of those people and disappearing the ship?’

For his answer, Smith pulled from the envelope a copy of an insurance claim detailing the proposed payout to Harper Holdings regarding the loss of The Rendezvous, crew and passengers. Looking at the bottom line, Sansom came to realise exactly how profitable fraud and murder could be. He also saw what price had been put on the lives of his wife and daughter. He folded the paperwork and put it in his jacket pocket.

‘What now?’

‘I’ll drive you to the airport. You’ve got a hotel room booked. Before your flight, buy yourself a few things and a bag. You’ll draw attention to yourself if you try to fly into Turkey with nothing.’

 

*

 

They drove to the airport with few words for each other. Smith pulled up in a darkened area away from the airport hotel entrance and any watching CCTV cameras. He left the engine running.

‘Here’s your hotel reservation,’ he said, handing over paperwork. ‘I’ll be in touch with you myself. Bishop will want to be kept regularly updated on your progress.’

‘What about a weapon?’ said Sansom.

‘I’ll arrange it. Get yourself there and settled first. One last thing: you make your own luck. Remember that. Also, remember what you’re doing out there.’

Sansom opened the car door and stepped out, not feeling that he owed Smith anything. For him this had just been a bit of dirty business.

For the second time that night a car drove off leaving him alone on a kerb, alone in the world and his life. He allowed himself a glimmer of satisfaction. The retribution he had survived for, dreamt about, suffered for, was a little closer. He looked up at the hotel, breathed deeply, preparing himself, and walked towards the doors.

 

*

 

Later, in his room, Sansom mixed himself a drink from the mini-bar and pulled up a chair at the desk. He took the recording he had made of Bishop’s visit and folded it inside the printed insurance matter that Smith had given him relating to Harper Holdings’ claim and payout. Then he helped himself to the complimentary notepaper from the hotel information wallet. He tore off the heading – no sense in leaving a paper-trail. Then he wrote a letter. When he had finished, he sealed it all inside the padded manila envelope that Smith had given him, addressed it and prepared for bed.

Unable to keep from mulling over the events of the evening and the possibilities of the coming days, sleep did not come quickly for him. He had put his complete faith and trust in men he didn’t know, couldn’t know. But he was free. Free to pursue the killers of his family. He had assistance. And he still had his advantage. For now that was as much as he could reasonably hope for.

 

***

 

 

6

When his phone rang, Captain Harris was at his desk engrossed in a report of a drunken brawl – Green Jackets and members of the public experiencing cultural differences at a London club. Still reading from the sheet in front of him, he lifted the handset, ‘Harris speaking.’

‘Afternoon, Simon, DI Tallis.’

Harris grimaced down the line. ‘Hello, Stan. How are you?’

‘Fair to middling, thanks. I’ve been expecting a call from you.’

‘Of course. Look, I’m afraid I have some bad news. I had hoped you might have learned through other channels, especially with your involvement.’

‘What sort of bad news?’

‘Sansom. He didn’t make it. He died a couple of days after we moved him. Seems it wasn’t a great idea to take him out of the NHS after all. I am sorry. I interviewed him a couple of times. He seemed to be making a good recovery. Medical personnel said he suffered internal haemorrhaging and died in his sleep. Nothing anyone could do.’

‘Sansom is dead?’

‘I am sorry, Stan.’

Unperturbed, Tallis said, ‘Well, there appears to be something of the divine about our Mr Sansom. Maybe we should rename him, something biblical, from the New Testament, perhaps.’

‘What do you mean?’ said Harris, anxiety forming in the pit of his stomach. ‘You’re talking in riddles, Stan.’

‘I mean that he’s now made more comebacks than Lazarus. I’ve just fielded a call from the Met. Apparently, Mr Sansom’s fingerprints match those recovered from a very recent London murder scene.’

‘How recent?’

Tallis told him. There was a long moment’s silence.

‘Impossible,’ said Harris, his eyes flitting around the office.

‘I jest not,’ said Tallis, sounding anything but amused. ‘Are you being quite straight with me, Simon?’

Dropping his voice, the soldier replied, ‘Stan, what I just told you is what I know, what I’ve been told. Look, can I get you on your mobile in a few minutes. I’m in the office right now.’

‘I’ll be waiting, Simon.’

Captain Harris sat at his desk, worry seeping through him. When he had telephoned Headley Court to check on Sansom’s progress, he had been directed back to his own CO, who had told him categorically that Lieutenant Sansom had died of the causes he just outlined to the policeman.

He had also been told that Sansom’s body had already been processed through the system and, seeing as he was technically already dead, it was decided to bury his re-emergence and demise metaphorically, bureaucratically and literally as quickly as possible. The Army didn’t need the embarrassment of his story.

Harris had been instructed to forget all about Lieutenant Sansom, leaving the Captain to wonder whether Sansom had been involved in something quite clandestine on behalf of one of the services from the beginning, which was now being hushed up.

Harris had a wife, family and a career to consider. In the Army one did what one was told and didn’t question the decisions of senior officers unless one wanted trouble.

On a pretext, Harris left the office for a nearby public house. He needed a drink and an anonymous place to talk. Settling himself into a booth away from the few other customers, he dialled the policeman. It rang once.

‘Tallis.’

‘Stan, it’s Simon. What can you tell me about this other incident?’

‘What can you tell me about Sansom?’

‘I give you my word that as far as I’m aware Sansom is dead. But there have been events associated with his reappearance and subsequent disappearance that are, shall we say, unusual. Please, tell me what you have.’

DI Tallis sighed down the line. ‘This morning, the Met attended the home of a journalist, one of those investigative types. He was found in his kitchen with his throat slit. Forensics found Sansom’s prints on a drinks glass and a few other places in the house. A hospital gown with the letters HC was also recovered from the scene. They contacted me because recent police records indicate that he should be in the custody of the Hampshire County Constabulary.’

‘Headley Court. Christ.’ There was a pause while Harris thought and Tallis let him. ‘Right. What are you doing tomorrow?’

‘Nothing that I can’t put off, why?’ said the DI.

‘I think perhaps we should have a proper chat, private and alone and not on the phone. Would you meet me at Fleet Services on the M3 westbound about ten in the morning?’

‘All right,’ said the DI. ‘Ten then, Simon.’

 

*

 

Stepping from the air-conditioned interior of Ataturk Airport, the heat of Istanbul hit Sansom like a solid wall. A slow-moving conveyor belt of the city’s distinctive yellow taxis gave him no transport problems. Showing the driver a hotel advertisement in his guidebook, he settled into the back seat.

He had risen early to shop within the precincts of Gatwick airport. After depositing the padded envelope into a post box, he purchased a holdall, binoculars, clothes, sunglasses, Turkish lira and other necessary items to make him look a convincing traveller. He’d also found a guidebook for Istanbul with a comprehensive map.

His selection of recipient for the envelope had not been an easy choice to make. Gerald would have been his first and most trusted option, but after what Bishop had revealed and threatened he didn’t know if it was safe for Gerald to be involved, or if his was a secure address to receive the package.

Something about Bishop had unsettled Sansom. He wasn’t sure how far he could trust him; he was a politician, after all. Involving Gerald further would put him at risk, a risk that he owed the man and his own dead wife not to take.

Discounting Gerald gave him few options. The man he finally chose had something in common with him. Even from their few meetings, he instinctively felt that he would be an honourable man, a man to trust with the truth and to ask that he do nothing with it until the time arose. He had to hope that he had not misjudged him.

Sansom was roused from his reverie by the sight of the Istanbul skyline – iconic, unmistakeable and evocative. Something sad stirred inside him. He and Alison had dreamed of one day visiting the ancient metropolis, exploring it and basking in its exotic ambience. They had wanted to visit Istanbul for romantic reasons. That was impossible now because of a man who valued money and materials above life. So he was finally here – to kill.

Behind his sunglasses the tears welled in his eyes at the thought of his beautiful, caring, dead wife. The woman who in life had been his greatest happiness had in death become his greatest sadness.

 

*

 

The balcony of his hotel room had a good view of the Bosphorus Channel, the natural and accepted boundary between the continents of Europe and Asia and the stretch of water that cleaved the city of Istanbul in half.

Freshly showered, he looked out across the busy waterway. Enormous cargo ships ploughed their way through the waters at regular intervals, numerous smaller fishing craft bobbing like corks in their wakes and washes. A constant motion of ferries worked their way to and fro across the short distance between the continents, disgorging their human freight of tourists and natives. The quays and bridges were lined with dozens of local fishermen jostling for position, packed in like the sardine-sized fish they were trying to catch. He sighed heavily. Alison would have loved this view, would have pointed out everything to him, wanting to share it all, even though he could see it all for himself.

Sansom found himself feeling differently about the loss of his wife and daughter since returning to civilisation. On the island, he had lived off their memories; they had never been far from his thoughts. Barely an hour would go by without him remembering them, talking to them. But now their loss as factors in his busier existence seemed only to haunt him; to spring up unexpectedly to dent his spirit and empty him.

Reluctantly, he turned away from the panorama that he could only observe, not enjoy. He examined again the map detailing the area in which he had been led to believe Botha lived. He understood that a boat trip along the coast with one of the local tour companies should provide him with an anonymous opportunity to view the waterfront home of the South African. But that would have to wait until the morning. With the light fading he couldn’t be sure of the location.

 

*

 

Sansom’s mobile rang as he was dressing. As far as he was aware, there was only one person with his number.

‘You’ve arrived?’ said Smith.

‘Yes.’

‘Where are you staying?’

‘Maybe the fewer people that know that the better. Is it important?’

‘Yes. If you don’t tell me where you are staying then I can’t tell your companion where to meet you.’

The quiet hung between them before Sansom said, ‘My companion? What are you talking about?’

‘I’ve decided that it will be sensible for your cover and your business there if you have someone who has some local knowledge of the place. I haven’t been there myself, but I understand that Istanbul is big and confusing. You’ll also look a lot less conspicuous with a partner. A man hanging around on his own attracts far more attention than a couple of apparent tourists on holiday.’

‘I don’t need a companion, a partner. I didn’t agree to that,’ said Sansom, his voice tightening.

‘You don’t have to agree to it, but you’re going to go along with it anyway. He who pays the piper and all that. Think about it logically, objectively, for a moment, like a soldier, and you’ll see that it makes sense. Now, where are you staying?’

Sansom gave him the name of the hotel, an idea of his own forming.

‘She’ll meet you in the lobby in an hour.’

‘Nothing to do with keeping an eye on me, I suppose?’

‘Not at all,’ said Smith. ‘I can do that anytime I choose.’

The line went dead.

Sansom threw the phone on to the bed, exasperated. The very last thing he needed was someone else to consider. Getting in his way or under his feet, the result would be the same: trouble. He would deal with her quickly. A companion, for Christ’s sake.

 

*

 

The ringing of the hotel phone made him start awake. He rubbed his face and reached for the handset at the side of the bed.

‘Mr Fallon?’ said the receptionist. Sansom grunted into the mouthpiece. ‘You have a visitor at reception.’

Sansom looked at his watch. If she’d been on time, she would have been waiting for nearly half an hour. ‘I’ll be down in a minute.’

He threw some water over his face, grabbed his key and took the stairs to the lobby, feeling groggy from the nap he hadn’t meant to take.

He followed the receptionist’s gaze to a woman who sat looking out over the street. Around thirty, he guessed, with a strong Mediterranean look, although much of her face was obscured by a wide-brimmed hat and big sunglasses.

He walked over. ‘I’m Fallon.’

She stood a head shorter than him in flat shoes. ‘That’s it?’

‘What?’

‘You are more than half an hour late. I thought the British were supposed to be well mannered, punctual. You don’t even apologise. They,’ she indicated the men behind the reception desk watching them, ‘think I’m a prostitute here for business.’

Conscious of the scene she was making, he took her arm and guided her out of the building. She shook him off.

On the pavement in the warm and fetid evening air, he said, ‘I can see that you are about as thrilled with this arrangement as I am.’

‘What?’ she said, her voice rising.

He looked around him. Attention was not something he wanted, but they were already attracting it. ‘Is there somewhere a little more private we could go to have this conversation?’ he said, through gritted teeth.

She stared at him, about to explode, he thought, then turning away, she said, ‘Follow me.’

They fought their way against the tide of human traffic thronging the streets for a short distance until she cut down a narrow alley. Sansom followed her to find himself in a quiet street flanked on both sides by small bars and restaurants and overhung with vines.

Enthusiastic waiters beckoned them in with outstretched menus and worn-out phrases. The woman ignored them all, striding ahead. Eventually, they came to a secluded, quiet place at the end of the street with a few weather-beaten tables outside. She sat. Opening her bag, she took out cigarettes and quickly lit one, inhaling deeply. A waiter approached as Sansom decided to sit. She mumbled a few words to him and he disappeared back inside.

‘What do you mean, I can see that you are about as thrilled with this arrangement as I am?’ she said. ‘How rude you are. How ungrateful. I come to help you and that is how you treat me, like something you trod in?’

Sansom smarted at her words. She was right, of course. He held his hands up in front of him. ‘I apologise. I was rude and I am sorry. There was, is, no excuse for my behaviour.’ She seemed about to say something more. Sansom ran a hand through his long hair. He let out a deep breath. ‘I really am very sorry. I’m taking out my frustration with someone else on you. It’s unforgivable.’

The waiter arrived with two bottled beers. A glazing of ice had formed invitingly around them. He popped the tops and they smoked like little chimneys in a display of physics.

Waiting for the man to retreat, she eyed Sansom critically through the smoke from her cigarette and from behind her dark glasses. ‘I have been asked to help you.’

‘By whom?’

‘Never mind. I have a debt to pay to someone. I help, my debt is paid. If you do not allow me to help you, I cannot repay the debt. Can you understand that? Perhaps you think you don’t need help?’

‘No, I mean yes. I don’t need help. What do you know of what I’m doing here? How have you been asked to help me?’

‘You understand Istanbul, do you?’ she said, ignoring his questions. ‘You know how to get around? How to talk to people? Do you even know where he lives?’

‘Where who lives?’

‘The man you have come to… ,’ she paused, unable to find the right word or afraid to speak it. She was calmer now. She clearly knew enough.

‘I can find him,’ he said. He picked up the beer, took a mouthful. It tasted good. He pressed her. ‘Who has asked you to help me? Please, it’s very important that I know.’

She sipped her own drink. ‘A man who does business with the man who has sent you.’

He said, ‘Do you know why I’m here?’

Their stared at each other for a long moment.

‘Yes.’

Sansom sat back in his chair and exhaled deeply, shaking his head. ‘Why couldn’t they just leave me to it?’

She leaned forward on her elbows. ‘Because you need help. You don’t know it but you do. I’m talking about being in a foreign country. You don’t know us, or Turkey, do you? I can help you find your way. Do you understand anything of my language? All I have to do is help you get around. When it comes to your reason for being here, you will be on your own.

‘Listen to me. I don’t know or care what they are paying you for this, but I will help you in any way that I can for nothing. The only reward I seek is to see that man dead. Then I will have paid my debt.’

Again, Sansom looked around them uncomfortably. He took another draught of his beer and worried.

More calmly, she said, ‘I can help you. I have told you how and I have told you why. If you really do not need or want any assistance at all then I will have to accept that, leave you to get on with it and wish you luck. You will need it.’

‘Why do you want him dead?’ said Sansom.

‘It is personal,’ she said. ‘What are they paying you to kill him?’

‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘It’s personal.’

 

***

 

 

7

Lighting another cigarette, she said, ‘What do you do? For work, I mean.’

‘Nothing at the moment. I was in the Army for some time.’

A crowd of noisy revellers passed by their table. He sipped his beer. Cooking smells drifted across from a nearby restaurant.

‘Have you eaten yet?’

‘No,’ he said, and he realised he was hungry.

‘There’s a good kebab place close by. You want to get something?’

Now would be the time to get up and leave. Make his excuses, never see her again. Not have to worry about her, her motives or her loyalties. But maybe there was some sense in what she had said. He would benefit from local knowledge; he had no idea of the language and her company would certainly make him less conspicuous.

‘Do you have a car?’ he said.

‘It’s not that far.’

‘Not for now, for tomorrow.’

 

*

 

The beer had taken the edge off him. ‘This is good,’ he said, through a mouthful of food.

She said, ‘Welcome to Turkey.’

They ate in silence for a while.

She pushed away her half-eaten meal. ‘Mind if I smoke?’ Chewing, he shook his head. She inhaled deeply and picked a flake of tobacco from her lip. ‘How are you going to do it?’

He looked around them before meeting her stare. She’d lost the sunglasses. The irises of her eyes were almost black, in remarkable contrast to the bright whites.

‘I don’t know yet. I only arrived this evening.’

‘With no plan at all?’

‘It was all very sudden. Unexpected.’

She toyed with her cigarette. ‘Have you done this sort of thing before?’

‘Not exactly.’

She frowned. ‘Pardon me but let me get this straight – you are alone, you are a stranger here, you have no experience of this kind of thing and no plan.’

He felt amateurish and embarrassed, a little sheepish even. ‘That’s correct. To a point.’ It occurred to him then that perhaps she would be the one to excuse herself from any further involvement with a proposal bound for what must look like spectacular failure.

‘The man that you are here to… find is very powerful, well protected and well connected. With the enemies that he has, he is also very careful. You know that I suppose?’

‘Yes.’

‘And you still think that you can succeed?’

‘I’m here to try. I have nothing to lose.’

‘What about your life?’ she said. He shrugged. She narrowed her eyes at him. ‘What did he do to you?’

He looked around them again. Tables were filling up with diners. ‘Let’s walk,’ he said. He wiped his mouth with the napkin, drained his second beer and threw some notes down on the table.

She led him down through quiet, steeply-winding lanes, avoiding the main pedestrian highway. Street dogs lay in doorways, occasionally lifting their heads to sniff them out. The stench of drains and rotting rubbish was stronger. The dirty streets and decaying buildings made a stark contrast to the superficial impression of wealth, affluence and cleanliness of the tourist trails only a few streets away.

Exiting through a narrow opening in the old city walls, they arrived at the shore of the Bosphorus. The narrow stretch of sea was littered with the varying glows of dozens of craft. Among them, the brightly-lit passenger ferries continued to ply their trade – metronomes of the city. As far as the eye could see in either direction, the far shore was a mass of glittering lights – the illuminated homes of millions. He watched in wonder as the hundreds of lights that decorated the great suspension bridge spanning the gap between Europe and Asia changed from blue to red. With a pang, he thought of what Alison would have made of the scene.

At the water’s edge a path stretched out in both directions. A cool and welcome breeze whisked away the fetid stale air of the alleyways. The sea pushed gently against the concrete shore, ripples of disturbance further out. They walked.

Canoodling couples occupied many of the benches that lined the water’s edge. Headscarves and the traditional long coats obscured the features of many of the women.

To make conversation, he said, ‘You’re not a scarf-wearer?’

Her reply was emphatic. ‘No. They are a symbol of repression that I do not approve of. They go against the vision of a progressive culture where men and women are equal. When the modern secular state of Turkey was established the wearing of headscarves was banned and now, like some malignant cancer, they are steadily returning, spreading.’

‘Are you not a Muslim?’

She rounded on him. ‘It’s got nothing to do with being a Muslim. I’m as Muslim as any of them. It’s about living the life and promoting the ideals of the modern state of Turkey. All those headscarves do is undermine it.’

Again, her flaring temper had startled him. They moved along the pathway in silence. A street dog, roused by their passing, stood and stretched.

‘Why do you want him dead?’ he asked, suddenly needing to know.

She stopped to light another cigarette. The flare from her match illuminated her strong features in the rapidly-falling darkness.

The smoke obscured her face momentarily. ‘My youngest brother committed suicide because of Botha.’ It was the first time either of them had mentioned the man’s name. ‘In my culture suicide is far more shameful for a family to bear than in yours. If someone is knowingly responsible for driving another to such a mental state then they deserve to die themselves.’

‘Is that a Muslim perspective or a cultural one?’

‘That is my own view. I loved my brother deeply. He was everything to me.’

‘And how about murder? How does your culture, your religion view that?’

‘Are you familiar with the concept of honour killings?’

‘Yes.’

‘That is what helping to kill this man would be to me. My culture’s and my religion’s views would be something that I would have to reconcile only within myself and with my God.’

‘And the law?’

‘Don’t talk to me of the law. The law did not help my brother. The law did not pursue those who pushed him to his death.’ She snorted, ‘The law is the same all over the world – an ultimately-corruptible institution. Everywhere, the law can be bought. All the time that there are wealthy and connected people that are prepared to pay for the privilege, the law will shield them from justice. Look at your own country if you doubt me.’

After a while, he said, ‘I have a concern. If you know why I’m here, who else knows? I realise that I don’t have that much going for me in this. My anonymity and the element of surprise are about it. If he were to find out that I’m looking for him, and why, then things would look bleaker than they already do for me. I don’t need to be watching my back.’

She said, ‘It wasn’t posted on the Internet, if that’s what you’re getting at. As I understand it, the man who sent you spoke directly with my acquaintance. My friend is a good man, an honest man. Botha is no friend to him. You will have to take my word for that.’

Sansom grunted. ‘Do I have a choice?’

‘Of course you do. You say that no one is paying you for this. You can choose to believe that we are all completely untrustworthy or useless or both; that you have been, or will be, compromised, and that you consequently have no chance of success. You can turn around and walk away if you want to.’

He stopped and smiled tiredly at her. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I can never do that.’

‘Why? What is it that makes you so committed? What did he do to you?’

‘He killed my wife and child.’

 

*

 

They had parted with his hotel in view after trading mobile phone numbers. She’d insisted on walking him back and in truth he was grateful. Istanbul seemed a confusing labyrinth to him and he was a long way from finding his bearings.

As he lay in bed, he reflected on how badly the evening had initially gone. Until his revelation regarding Alison and his daughter they had seemed a poor match of personalities to be working to such an end. And then she had softened, showed compassion born of genuine empathy. They found common ground, albeit the most horrible of circumstances, something that could bind them together to strengthen and drive their common purpose. And he sensed a sureness in her to match her obvious strength of character. He knew without doubt that she would prove to be a valuable ally. As he drifted into sleep, he hoped that it would not be him who proved to be a disappointment to her.

 

*

 

As Captain Harris pulled into the car park of Fleet Services he recognised Tallis’s car. He found him at an outside table with coffee, the remains of a fast food breakfast and a crowded ashtray. He got coffee for himself and joined the policeman.

‘I half expected that you wouldn’t turn up,’ said Tallis.

‘Sorry to have given you that impression,’ said the soldier. ‘But I understand it.’ Harris’s grave face was a marked contrast to the confident Sandhurst graduate that Tallis remembered from their previous meeting.

‘You look troubled,’ said Tallis.

‘When you know what I know, you might feel the same.’

Tallis eyed the man keenly. ‘Go on.’

‘Sansom isn’t dead.’ Harris met the policeman’s gaze and held it. ‘I didn’t know that when I spoke to you yesterday.’

The policeman nodded his acceptance of this. ‘How can you be sure now?’

‘Because this morning I received a package from him at the office.’

A long stump of ash had gathered at the end of Tallis’s latest cigarette. He stubbed the thing out.

‘The contents are extremely sensitive. Believe me, Stan, you have no idea. I don’t feel that I can go to my CO with it. It’s possible that he may be complicit in what’s going on. He’s the man that told me categorically to forget all about Sansom when I started to make a fuss about seeing the body – I had difficulty believing that he was dead and I still haven’t been provided with a death certificate.

‘Sansom enclosed a letter with what he sent, asking me to wait for three months. If I heard nothing from him in that time, make it public.’ He smiled at Tallis. ‘I couldn’t do that. I have a family and a career and the Official Secrets Act to consider. I should surrender the package and its contents to my CO, but then I fear it would be either destroyed or buried. I would also be putting myself in a difficult position by demonstrating my knowledge of events. That is not something I could risk.

‘I spent time debriefing Sansom. What that man has been through deserves better than I fear he would get from the system. I respect the man. He lost everything. He and his family were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

‘He’s a soldier and so am I, despite my pen-pushing. We served in the same arena. He doesn’t know that. We never met. I got it from his records. There are too many soldiers who’ve been screwed over by the government and the Army. Not all have been as fortunate as me when a field injury invalids you out of the front line. Governments and armies should look after their own.’

‘Why are you telling all this to me?’ said Tallis.

‘Because I’m going to entrust what Sansom sent me to you. I’m leaving in a month – overseas posting. I wouldn’t be able to do anything to help him any more, but I’m not willing to see him abandoned and buried. From what you’ve shared with me, I know that you won’t do that.’

The DI raised his eyebrows at the presumption. ‘Because I know his story,’ said Harris. ‘And when you know it too, you will have some compassion for him. I want to give you everything I have – recordings of the interviews we made and the package that he sent me. He’s going to need someone who might be able to help him in the future. It can’t be me, I’m afraid.

‘Needless to say, I would be trusting you to keep me out of it. As I’ve said, I have a family and career to consider. The only items that are traceable to me are the tapes from the interviews. You’ll be doing me a favour if, when you’ve listened to them, you destroy them.’

‘You know that I can’t possibly refuse.’

‘Yes,’ said the soldier, returning the smile, ‘I do. Here is my card. You will always be able to reach me on one of those email addresses if you think I might be able to help. I can’t promise you anything, though.’

Tallis slid the card into his wallet. The two men stood and shook hands warmly. In their short association there had grown a genuine respect and liking on each other’s part. And now they shared secrets.

The soldier indicated the nondescript carrier bag that had been sitting on the chair between them. ‘Look after that and yourself, Stan.’

Replacing his sunglasses, he mock-saluted before wheeling about face and leaving the DI reaching for another cigarette, wondering what could be in the cheap plastic bag.

 

*

 

Harris had sequenced the contents of the padded envelope, indicating on a note that to make sense of it all Tallis should observe his order. Thoughtfully, he had also enclosed a Dictaphone. Tallis began listening to the tapes immediately he was back in his car. When he reached the detail of the massacre, he had to leave the road and park. Tears formed and he let them fall. He switched off the tape machine and left the car to walk and clear his head for a few minutes.

Harris was right: now that he knew the full story of what happened to The Rendezvous, he felt only empathy for Sansom and his losses, the tragic, needless waste of life.

When he had regained his composure, he returned to his car and put a call through to his department, informing them that he was feeling unwell and would be taking the rest of the day off. Let someone else deal with the cycle of crap.

By the time he arrived at the bungalow where he now lived alone, it was early afternoon. He had finished listening to the tapes in the car, incredulous by the end. Pouring himself a large drink, he sat in his old armchair to read through the accompanying notes that Sansom had included.

When he came to the account of Sansom’s ‘escape’ and visit to the London house, he could scarcely believe what he was reading. Had Harris twigged, he wondered, made the connection? Surely, he would have mentioned something. Tallis was left feeling that it was entirely possible that, apart from the men who had been involved in the killing, he was the only one who knew fully what was going on.

 

*

 

They had arranged to meet the following morning at the quayside where the pleasure boats that cruised up and down the Bosphorus were moored. Sansom had explained his intention to view Botha’s residence from the water and from the land. It was a typical tourist trip and together they would look just like any other couple enjoying the sights of Istanbul. She had accepted this without comment, offering to accompany him, give him the benefit of her local knowledge.

The weather had changed appreciably from the day before. A cool north-easterly wind was blowing up the channel, ruffling the water and creating a faint swell. Seagulls hung in the breeze before wheeling away screaming to fall on some discarded morsel. Despite it being mid-summer, he was grateful that he wore a jacket.

As he waited, a taxi pulled up at the kerb and the woman stepped out. Despite himself, he found that he admired her, physically as well as her spirit. While not beautiful, she was certainly attractive. She carried herself with confidence and authority that hinted at the strength and depth of her character.

She smiled as she approached, holding out a small carrier bag to him. He suddenly realised with a splash of shame and embarrassment that he didn’t know her name.

He accepted the offering. ‘What’s this?’

‘Simit. It’s a type of bread. It’s a staple food of my country, especially at breakfast. I didn’t know if you would have eaten or not.’

‘Thank you,’ he said, touched by her gesture. ‘Look, I’m sorry, I don’t even know what I should call you.’

She laughed, showing good teeth. ‘Eda,’ she said, making it sound like header without the ‘h’. ‘What shall I call you? Mr Fallon?’

‘My first name is Acer,’ he said, before he remembered that it no longer was.

A man stood on the prow of one of the stationary boats hawking for customers.

‘This one leaves in ten minutes,’ she said. ‘It’ll take us up as far as the second bridge. We could get off there and walk back. It would give us an opportunity to walk along the shoreline and pass by his home.’

She led him aboard and paid for them both.

The upper deck of the craft was open to the elements. It would be a cool journey and again he was glad of his jacket. He noticed that she too was prepared for the chill. They took a position to the side that would afford the best view of the shore. There were few other passengers prepared to brave the upper deck.

As they headed out into the channel, he said, ‘I thought Istanbul was supposed to be unbearably hot at this time of year.’

She smiled again. ‘The weather in Istanbul is known for its capricious nature; it changes its mind often without warning or consideration. A bit like a woman,’ she added. He glanced at her, unable to read her expression, her eyes hidden again behind her large designer sunglasses.

They moved through the water in a comfortable silence, occupied with their own thoughts. Some minutes later, she nudged him, indicating with an upward movement of her chin where he should be looking. ‘The white building with the yacht,’ she said. Pushing up his sunglasses, he brought up his binoculars, scanning the bank of the waterway before bringing them to bear on Botha’s residence. His stomach tightened as the building came into focus. The realisation of the nearness of the man who had become his target gave him an unexpected and satisfying feeling of achievement.

He made out activity through an upstairs window, men on the yacht and quayside. His soldier’s eye appraised the modern three-storey structure and what he could see of the grounds. He lowered the glasses as they passed and they continued without speaking until they reached the furthermost point of their journey a mile or so past.

As they walked away from the dock, he said, ‘Would you like a coffee?’

‘Turks rarely say no to the offer of coffee,’ she said. ‘Follow me. There is a good proper coffee house near here.’

They walked a short way on the main highway before turning down a narrow side street. Old wooden buildings, mostly dilapidated, overhung the street from each side. He found it hard to believe that people lived in most of them, though it was clear from the hanging laundry that they did. Not for the first time since arriving in Istanbul, he was struck by the juxtaposition of the obvious wealth along the main roads and tourist trails and the crushing poverty lurking only a street behind.

They took a table overlooking the channel, still busy with the world’s shipping. Being a lover of both the sea and boats, he found himself warming to the city with its close relationship with the water. He also realised the validity of the arguments that had persuaded him, against his own initial feelings, to accept the woman as his personal guide. Already, she had saved him the awkwardness and difficulty of interactions that he would take for granted in any English-speaking country. She had enabled him to maintain a level of anonymity, even down to the simple act of buying a drink.

The waiter brought two miniature cups of dark brown sludge. Sansom sniffed at the pungent substance, frowning.

‘Your first Turkish coffee?’ she said.

‘If that’s what it is, then yes. Do they not do a bigger one?’

She laughed. ‘No. We have been drinking it like that for centuries. Your first Turkish coffee is something to savour and celebrate. When you are finished the old woman over there can read your fortune from the dregs if you like.’

He looked across to where a woman whose appearance suggested a close Romany ancestry sat in the corner, her eyes closed, arms folded across her ample girth.

‘Some other time,’ he said. He sipped at the coffee and recoiled from its bitter, grainy taste. ‘Christ, that’s strong.’

‘You see, perhaps, why we drink only small amounts. Try some sugar.’

He helped himself to the jug of water.

‘What did you understand of the house?’ she asked.

‘Plenty of activity, plenty of men, probably armed, and dogs. The waterfront makes a good entry point, though to be honest he is probably too well protected at home.’ He toyed with his spoon. ‘I need to be straight with you about something.’ He met her stare. ‘I’m not here just for Botha. The circumstances of my family’s death involved some of his employees – men he sends to do his dirty work. I won’t be finished with this until I’ve killed everyone who was there.’

She didn’t seem shocked by this but said, ‘Or died in the process.’

 

*

 

They walked from the coffee house along the main road back towards the heart of the city. The narrowness of the pavements, traffic noise and other pedestrians made conversation virtually impossible. At times the road touched upon the shores of the Bosphorus but for the most part it was the zealously-fenced grounds of large private houses that lined that stretch of waterfront.

When they calculated that they were as far as Botha’s residence, they left the main highway, which had been veering inland for some time. They threaded their way through tight lanes of trapped heat in the maze of high-walled properties in the direction of the water to satisfy Sansom’s wish to view Botha’s home.

A loud blast of a car horn from behind made them both start. They pressed themselves against a wall as two large black Audis swept dangerously near and passed in close formation. Blackened windows hid the occupants. The cars accelerated around the bend in a cloud of dust. Sansom reached the bend to see the large driveway gates at the end of the roadway that led down to Botha’s property swinging shut behind the disappearing vehicles. He stood looking after them, his heart racing, wondering if Botha or any of the men that he sought had just gone past him.

Looking around, he noticed a CCTV camera mounted at the bend. It was pointing at them. He grabbed Eda’s bag and pulled out the street map she had brought. He began remonstrating and gesticulating.

‘What are you doing?’ she said, clearly confused.

‘Keep it up. Get angry with me.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Don’t look up. We are being watched by CCTV. And it’s close. We’re lost, got it? And it’s your fault.’

He turned the map this way and that, pointing back the way they had come. To his surprise, she snatched it from him, stabbed a finger into the centre, threw it at him and stormed off back in the direction they had come from without a word. He gathered it from the road and went after her.

As he came alongside her, he said, ‘Well done. Don’t stop.’

She said nothing. They walked quickly, like lovers away from the scene of a quarrel, back towards the main road.

They were almost at the main highway once more when he heard tyres approaching, gliding smoothly over the tarmac behind them.

‘Someone’s coming,’ he said.

They came slowly. As they drew alongside, Sansom turned to look at the vehicle. The front passenger window was now down. A huge shaven-headed black man stared directly at Sansom from behind sunglasses. They were in no hurry now. As Sansom looked at him, his face broke into a smile, displaying a mouth of large even white teeth and one gold incisor. Sansom looked away. A sickness was rising within him and his legs grew suddenly leaden and weak. The Audi purred past them and he felt with an energy-sapping certainty that he had looked into the face of the man that had shot him on the beach of Jackson island – the same man who had killed his wife and child.

At the highway, Eda hailed one of the numerous passing yellow taxis. It braked abruptly for them, blocking the road. Drivers behind signalled their displeasure and impatience at the few seconds’ delay. She mumbled something to the driver and they sped away. Sansom turned to look behind them. There was no sign of the Audi. He looked at her. She was shaking in the back seat.

‘Are you all right?’

She nodded once, staring out of the window. Her knuckles stood out white against the handles of her dark bag.

‘Where are we going?’ he said.

‘The city.’

‘I’m sorry to put you in that position.’

She looked at him then from behind her dark glasses. ‘You didn’t,’ she said. ‘I did.’ She spoke rapidly to the driver and got a grunt in return. She wound down the window and lit a cigarette. Sansom turned back to stare out of the windscreen.

He took himself back to the day that the killers had come. He would never forget the image of the man, seen through his binoculars, as he crumpled, shot, into the sea from the deck of The Rendezvous. But it was the man behind the trigger who he now sought to recollect. Big and black certainly, but the distance in space then and time now combined to rob him of further detail.

 

*

 

They were soon back into the sweltering heat and frenzied activity of the city centre. The cool wind of earlier had dropped and the cloud had lifted. The sun shone down unimpeded from its zenith. She stopped the driver on a busy street. Back on the city’s pavements, she seemed more composed.

‘Drink?’ she said.

‘Coffee, as long as I can choose the place.’

 

*

 

They sat at a table overlooking the street from a first floor terrace, large iced coffees in front of them. Many and varied heads bobbed along the pedestrianised thoroughfare below them.

‘You sure you’re OK?’ he said. She nodded, inhaling on a cigarette, preoccupied with her drink. He said, ‘We had bad luck, that’s all.’ He took a deep breath. ‘I have a strong sense that the one in the car was the one from The Rendezvous.’ He hadn’t provided her with any details. ‘I saw him once only through binoculars.’

She was looking at him now. ‘How were they killed?’

He stirred his coffee. He wanted her to know. He wanted her to understand his reason and depth of obligation to his lost loved ones and himself – why he was there against such odds. But now was not the time.

‘They were shot,’ he said simply.

‘Did you see them killed?’

He shook his head. ‘I heard it.’ He ran his hands through his hair, looking, she thought, unexpectedly vulnerable for a moment. ‘I wasn’t there. Botha’s people couldn’t have seen me. Don’t worry about today. They wouldn’t know me from the man that I was then anyway. I’ve changed physically. We put on a good show.’

She met his gaze, understanding that he was offering her reassurance and comfort. ‘It’s not you who I’m worried that they recognised,’ she said, ‘it’s me.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I’ve had trouble with that man before. I was in a restaurant, Botha walked in. I became aggressive towards him, made accusations. The big man forced me out.’

A long moment passed while Sansom took this in.

‘How long ago was this?’ he said.

‘About six months. I’m sorry. I should have told you before we went today. I never thought that we would get that close to him.’

‘Nor did I,’ he said, smiling at her. ‘Forget it now. He didn’t seem to notice you.’

For a while, they worked quietly at their drinks.

‘What will you do now?’ she said.

‘I need time to think. What can you tell me about the man, his family?’

She told him everything she knew, glad to be able to take her mind off the morning. Since her brother’s death she had made Botha her business. She spoke of his known business interests, his personal interests, his favourite haunts and his family. He listened, his regard for her value increasing.

Finishing their second coffee, she told him of errands she needed to run that afternoon.

They parted company on the street, agreeing to meet later that evening. As Sansom turned to watch her walk away among the throngs of people, he glimpsed, through the masses crossing in front of him, a suited figure standing across the street, looking directly at him from behind dark glasses. A group of camera-wielding tourists crossed between them. When they had passed the man had vanished.

He joined the current of people heading in the direction of his hotel. From a street vendor, he stopped to purchase one of the simit breads that he had enjoyed that morning. In the reflection of a shop window, he saw the suited man again, staring towards him from the shadows of a doorway. He understood then that they had been followed. Whoever was in charge of Botha’s personal security was either very nervous or very thorough. Inwardly, he cursed himself for his lack of attention, his sloppiness.

Adrenalin surged through his system, his senses sharpened and his mind racing. Leading them back to the hotel would uncover him. He would go from hunter to quarry, become a sitting duck. He saw only two options – fight or flight – and swiftly weighed the consequences of each.

Without appetite, he forced himself to gnaw at the food as he continued in tourist fashion and at tourist speed down the tourist boulevard, buying himself time. A tram clanged its warning of approach from behind him. Moving aside, he saw the man at a distance. Ahead was the narrow street that Eda had led him down the previous night on their route to the sea. He ransacked his memory for its details.

On impulse, he entered a clothes shop. He emerged some minutes later clutching a carrier bag. The watcher was still there. He followed. Sansom estimated thirty yards between them. Turning into the deserted street of the previous night, he broke into a run. The sharp descent bent round ahead of him. He ran past a disorderly group of the city’s ubiquitous steel garbage bins, tattered posters hanging from them, to disappear around the curve.

The man stood at the entrance to the alley for a few seconds, assessing from behind his dark glasses. He undid the buttons of his jacket and walked. As he quickened his pace, the material flapped in the breeze channelled up the narrow space. A mangy dog appeared from behind a bin, growling a warning. The sound of his footsteps echoed off the walls of the otherwise-subdued, deserted space as he pursued Sansom.

The man barely glanced at the stooped track-suited figure making its way up the incline, a floppy hat obscuring the features and a scaffold pole on his shoulder. As they came abreast of one another, Sansom swung the metal tube retrieved from the derelict building where he had pulled on the new clothes. The man brought up his arm in defence. It cracked as it absorbed the impact. He yelled in pain. His good arm fumbled inside his jacket as he reeled backwards. Sansom brought the pole down across the man’s shoulders. He buckled and collapsed. Sansom fell on him, wrestling the gun from under his clothing, shoving it under his chin. The man groaned. Sansom scanned the street. It remained empty, quiet.

‘You’re fucking dead,’ said the man through gritted teeth. The short clipped tones of the South African accent stung Sansom. ‘You and that trouble-making bitch.’

Sansom jabbed the pistol hard into the man’s throat. ‘How long have you been with Botha?’

‘Fuck you.’

‘Ever been to the Pacific Ocean? Jackson Island?’ The rage welled up inside the soldier. It boiled, compressed in his consciousness to pressure and distort his thinking, cloud his judgement. He twisted the man’s broken arm, feeling the parts of shattered bone grate. The man screamed.

‘The Pacific Ocean?’ he repeated.

‘You’re fucking dead,’ shouted the man.

‘You had your chance,’ said Sansom. The red mist of his vengeance finally enveloped him. ‘It’s more than you gave them.’ He stuck the weapon into the man’s stomach and fired. The muffled pop bounced off the walls in the stillness. The man spasmed briefly and lay still.

It was not an act born of reason, proof or knowledge, but of cold-bloodied fury that surged through him; the accumulation of months of powerless impotence. Sansom lifted himself off the man. A trickle of blood had begun running with the pitch of the street. He took the man’s wallet. Looking around and up, he saw a child’s face at a third floor window staring down at him. Pocketing the weapon, he walked swiftly away down the hill, bile rising in his throat.

 

***

 

 

8

‘Eda?

‘Yes.’

‘Are you all right?’

‘Yes, why wouldn’t I be?’

‘Something’s happened.’

‘I’m fine. What has happened?’

‘They followed us, followed me. They recognised you.’ A silence stretched out until Sansom said, ‘I’ve dealt with it.’

‘How?’

‘Not on the phone.’

‘I’m finished here. Can you get a ferry to the Asian side? I’ll meet you at the dock.’

‘I’m leaving now. Be careful.’

 

*

 

He had used a shaded doorway in a huddle of derelict buildings to remove the newly-purchased clothes, which he had slipped on over his own. He threw the pipe through the unglazed window. The resounding clatter of metal on concrete shattered the peace that had settled on the passageway, scaring a pair of roosting pigeons into clumsy, noisy flight. A couple of streets away, he buried the clothes and hat in a rubbish skip.

 

*

 

Arriving back at the hotel drenched in a guilty sweat, he hurriedly began gathering his few things together before slumping, drained, in what he recognised as delayed shock, on the edge of the bed to gather his thoughts and collect himself.

He had killed a man, not his first, but the nature of it disturbed him. The nature of himself disturbed him. Killing had been unnecessary. It would only serve to generate attention that he should be aiming to avoid, not encourage. He had acted recklessly, lost his control. He recognized that. Allowing emotion to colour his judgement, influence his actions in the future, could only further risk his already-slender chances of meeting with any success. Simply for the man’s death, however, he had no regrets. Had he been part of the massacre on The Rendezvous or not, it was something towards his revenge, a message; a salve for his anger and frustration. He studied the pistol and counted the rounds. It felt good to have it. Now, at least, the odds had improved.

Checking out of the hotel, he discussed with the receptionist his good fortune at getting a ride east with friends to see some of the historic sites of the country. The likelihood that he could be identified and traced from the afternoon was, he felt, slim. However, others besides the law would now know of his existence in Istanbul. Botha, too, would inevitably soon have to take an interest. The resources that he would command would make staying somewhere as obvious as a hotel dangerous. Sansom deemed any effort to confuse people who came looking for him better than none.

 

*

 

Eda was waiting for him at the dock looking anxious, grim. He followed her to her car at the car park and put his holdall in the boot.

He indicated the benches overlooking the dock. ‘Let’s sit for a minute.’

He gave her time to root around in her bag for cigarettes and light up.

He said, ‘Hear what I have to say and if you want nothing more to do with this I can walk away. Maybe it would be better for us both if I did anyway.’

She stared out across the water while people milled about them in varying states of haste. Sansom noticed that there were far fewer tourist types evident on this side of the Bosphorus. That fact made him more conspicuous.

‘I killed a man,’ he said. ‘I had a choice. I didn’t have to.’

He waited. She smoked.

‘We were followed this morning. I noticed him when we came out of the coffee shop – one of Botha’s men. He trailed me down a side street. I didn’t plan to kill him. I lost control.’

Still she said nothing.

‘I don’t think I was seen. As soon as he’s found the shit’ll hit the fan. Perhaps you should distance yourself from me. It’ll be safer for you.’

Turning to look at him, she said, ‘How do you arrive at that understanding? We were seen together this morning. They followed us and now one of them is dead. You said that I was recognised?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then I’m implicated.’

‘You weren’t there and you had no idea what I was doing. You are not responsible for my actions. The law can’t hope to make trouble for you without evidence.’

Slowly and deliberately, as if she was explaining something to a child, she said, ‘I’m not talking about the law. I’m talking about Botha. I’ve already told you; the law doesn’t matter to him. He maintains his position in Istanbul by being above the law. He pays well for it. I’m still not sure you have any idea of who you are dealing with.’

She ground out the cigarette under her shoe.

With a bravado that sounded hollow, even to him, he said, ‘Maybe not but now he will.’

She sighed heavily. ‘I told you yesterday that I wanted Botha dead. I still do. If you are continuing to that end then I am still prepared to help you in any way that I can. But I don’t want to be party to some gratuitous killing spree or your vendetta with the rest of them.’

He nodded. ‘I understand. But I can’t promise that things won’t overlap.’

She ignored this. ‘You’re sure that no one saw you?’

‘A small child, maybe.’

She moved her head slowly from side to side registering her disapproval. ‘They’ll trace it back to you, won’t they?’

‘Almost certainly.’

‘You will have to stay away from places that they or the police might look for you.’ He made to speak but she quietened him with a raised hand. ‘The police will be looking for you either for themselves or on Botha’s behalf. You can be sure of that, too. That rules out hotels.’

He let her think for a minute.

‘There is a flat in my apartment building that I am minding for a friend. You can stay there for now. It’ll be safe.’

His thank you sounded horribly inadequate.

‘And you need to do something with your hair. It makes you stick out like a sore toe.’

‘Thumb,’ he corrected.

‘Right. The English and their idioms – sore thumb.’ As if waking up to the danger around them, she said, ‘We should go.’

 

*

 

She navigated the heavy traffic with reckless, practised abandon, seemingly oblivious to the entitlements and rebukes of other road users, focussed only on what was in her way: changing lanes without indication, running lights, and ignoring road signs and speed limits. Her own use of the horn had him scanning the highway for the inevitable attention that she must surely be attracting while his feet twitched in the foot well.

‘This is the way it is,’ she said, indicating the traffic outside with a wave of her hand. ‘Making other road users aware of your determination to progress is essential if you wish to get anywhere on the roads of Istanbul. The meek don’t even inherit a right of way here.’

Swinging the wrong way into a one-way street, she fumbled in the door pocket to retrieve a remote control. She cut across the pavement and they came to a stop at the top of a steep slope. Activating the device, a large shutter began to rise, revealing an underground car park. They shot down the little ramp to be swallowed up by the great yawning mouth. Despite the coolness of the underground space and the car’s air conditioning, he realised he was sweating.

The building was not more than a few years old. The internal decor and finish of chrome, glass and polished stone indicated affluence and expense. The chill of the interior provided welcome respite from the heat and humidity of the city.

She led him up polished granite stairs. As they climbed, he reflected on her extreme trust and faith, putting herself into a situation where she was alone with a man who she really didn’t know at all and who had not an hour ago confessed to murder. Would he be doing the same in her position? It made him wonder, again, at her motives and loyalties.

Her apartment was open plan, darkened and protected from the rising heat of the day by electric blinds lowered almost to their full extent. It was sparsely but tastefully furnished. Every wall had either a well-stocked bookcase or some piece of abstract modern art ornamenting it. She threw her bag and keys on a table in the hallway.

‘You want a drink of something?’

‘Water would be good.’

She took a large container from the refrigerator and said, ‘Don’t ever drink water other than bottled while you’re in Istanbul.’

The apartment was hushed compared to the constant dynamic soundtrack of the city streets. Their words assumed a new clarity. She filled a kettle and began preparing coffee.

‘My friend lives one floor up. We’ll go in a minute. I need a coffee and a cigarette first. Why don’t you sit down?’

He took a seat at the breakfast bar. From somewhere inside the apartment music began to play.

‘My phone,’ she said and went to retrieve it.

He stood and wandered over to look out of the unshuttered kitchen window that overlooked the street. Shoppers wandered around the pavement stalls of the small market shop opposite. He watched an old bent woman slowly picking over tomatoes, examining each individually, tossing the unwanted aside, and he found himself wondering when was the last time he had done something as mundane and ordinary as that. Would he ever get the chance again?

He became aware of her behind him in the doorway and turned to face her.

‘That was a colleague of mine. He rang to tell me that one of Botha’s men has been found dead.’ Her large eyes bored into him, searching for something in his face. Weakness? Fear even? An indication that he wasn’t up to the task that he had set himself?

He held her gaze for a long moment before saying, ‘Anything else?’

She shook her head, dropped her eyes and busied herself with making coffee.

‘He knows about my feelings towards Botha, wanted to give me some good news. He asked if I knew anything about it. I think he was joking. He said that it would be on the news soon.’

They drank coffee together at the breakfast bar. She switched on the television news channel, muting the sound.

‘Of course,’ she said, giving further vent to her critical side, ‘if Botha was well protected by security before, he will be even more careful after this. Your precious element of surprise would appear to have been wasted.’ She was right and she was letting him know how foolish he had been.

‘They might not necessarily connect us with the death,’ he said, although as the words left his mouth, he realised that he was fooling neither of them. ‘OK,’ he said quickly, ‘you’re right. But it’s done and there’s no undoing it. Maybe I shouldn’t regret it.’

She turned to face him. ‘What do you mean?’

He said, ‘Regardless of what you want out of this, I want as many of them dead as I can manage. I really don’t care whether I can prove that individually they were directly involved or not in what happened to my family. They work for him. They are part of what he stands for. Every one of them that I can kill will crank up the anxiety for Botha until it becomes a worry and then a fear. I want him to feel fear. I want him to be afraid, to suffer those anxieties. My best means to that end might be to work from the outside inwards. It seems that I have little chance to get to him directly. Besides, if I were to be able kill him first, what would happen to the others? With no master, they’d scatter. With Botha alive and well and employing, I have them all right where I can find them.’

She stared at him without speaking but her body language was just as effective in communicating her feelings for his sentiment.

 

*

 

The flat upstairs was a mirror image of Eda’s in design. Her friend shared similar tastes in furnishing style, although Eda’s love of culture and the arts was clearly greater. She showed him the rooms he would need. At his insistence, they had agreed a story that if either of them was questioned about his presence there he was a friend of Eda’s dead brother from England. She was letting him stay in the flat that she managed for her friend. As for why they had been together near Botha’s residence that morning, they had simply stumbled off the beaten track on their walk back to the city after their sightseeing cruise – a coincidence. It wasn’t going to fool anyone, they both knew that, but it was better than nothing and a story that whoever was questioning it had to disprove.

Satisfied that he was familiar with the place, she told him to wait for her while she went out for hair dye. She had again expressed her concern for the way his blond hair would make him stand out in a nation of dark-haired Mediterranean-looking men.

From the kitchen window, he watched her emerge from the building below, cross the road and disappear down a side street. As he stood there alone, his paranoia returned to cloud and confuse his thinking.

Perhaps it wasn’t her who was too trusting but him. Had she settled him there to set him up? Made an excuse and left simply to inform on him and get him out of her life? He understood that she viewed his actions of the morning as irresponsible and potentially dangerous for her. He couldn’t argue with that. She had certainly been affected by the opinions he had expressed in her flat. Perhaps she viewed her association with him now as undesirable, something for her to put a stop to before it went too far.

For several minutes he remained at the window, watching, waiting, worrying. Normal life went on below. He pulled over a chair and settled himself, determined to keep a vigil, unable to trust her completely. He reflected on the mistakes he had made already and resolved to be more guarded, more aware, more professional. He had flown into the city with a purpose but no plan and had rushed into situations that could, in retrospect, have been avoided. His slim odds of achieving anything would not be helped by such an amateurish approach. He was a professional, trained to think and act effectively in conflict situations. He needed to start behaving like one.

 

*

 

Time wore on. The afternoon light began to wane. From somewhere close by the evening call to prayer began – the eerie wail drifting across the rooftops.

He awoke with a start to the sound and vibration of the mobile phone in his pocket. For a brief moment, he was unable to remember where he was and stood quickly, staring about him until his senses returned. He didn’t need to check his watch to see that a decent chunk of time had elapsed since Eda had left the building. The evening light was thinning out. He pulled the phone out of his pocket.

‘Eda?’

‘What?’ said Smith.

‘Never mind.’ Sansom scowled at himself for another slip. ‘What do you want?’

‘Bad timing?’

‘No.’

‘I see that you’ve checked out of your hotel. Where are you now?’

‘You don’t need to know that.’

‘I do if you want your weapon.’

‘It’s taken care of.’

‘Really? That was quick. I’m impressed. You have anything to do with that shooting in the city?’

‘No, Smith,’ said Sansom.

No, Smith,” echoed the man, ‘not, “what shooting, Smith?”’

Sansom cursed his tiredness. ‘What shooting?’ he said.

‘Never mind. I have a feeling that you could tell me more about that than I could tell you. Just take it slowly,’ he continued. ‘Let’s not take our eyes of the prize, eh? That sort of behaviour is bound to attract all sorts of unwanted attention.’

It seemed to Sansom that everyone knew his business better than he did. He was forming a smart retort for Smith when the line went dead. He stood staring out of the window, wondering how Smith could possibly connect the shooting with him in such a short space of time, unless he had someone providing him with information. If that were the case, then there could only be one person.

Looking out over the darkening residential district, he wondered where Eda was, whether she had returned home to find him asleep and left him to rest. As he gazed down on the street, his attention was taken by a slow-moving unmarked car heading his way. It drew to a stop outside the apartment block. Instinctively, he shrank back into the shadow of the room. The driver, a large man, got out and opened the rear door. Eda stepped out of the vehicle. She didn’t look up. Another man got out and came around to join them. Together they approached the front of the building.

Sansom retrieved the pistol from his holdall and cracked the apartment door. He stared at the lift’s electronic display, counting off the floors as it climbed slowly towards him. In his panic, he struggled to remember which floor he was on. He felt perspiration prickle his flesh. The lift stopped at the fourth floor. He brought the pistol up, holding steady on the lift doors. They remained shut. From the floor below he heard voices, a jangle of keys and a door being opened. He lowered the weapon and edged back inside the apartment. He stood, rooted to the spot, straining his hearing above the pumping of blood in his ears for the sound of movement in the stairwell.

Maybe two leaden minutes passed before he heard again the distorted sound of voices echoing up from below – Eda’s raised above the males’. A door slammed. The lift indicated descent. He stepped back into the apartment and from behind the curtains watched as the two men emerged from the building, got into their car and drove away. His phone rang.

‘Haven’t you wondered where I’ve been?’ said Eda.

‘Of course,’ he said. ‘But I’ve only just woken up.’

And then she surprised him – she laughed. Not a sarcastic comment, but a sudden release of pent up nervous energy. He waited. ‘I’ve spent the last two hours with the Istanbul police answering questions about my movements today and you’ve been asleep.’

‘Were they police with you just now?’

‘Yes. Come down.’

He jammed the pistol into the back of his trousers, locked the apartment and went to her.

 

*

 

The door was ajar. He tapped on it and walked in, closing it behind him.

She was at the breakfast bar with a drink in front of her, a cigarette smouldering between her fingers. Despite her laughter on the phone, she looked tired and drawn.

‘Wine?’

He shook his head. ‘What happened?’

‘I was picked up by those two, who so kindly brought me back home, or should I say came to check that I wasn’t harbouring a fugitive.’ She stared at him, no hint of amusement now. ‘They took me to the police station to – how is it the British police so politely put it? – assist them with their enquiries.’

‘Are you all right?’

She smiled without humour. ‘It’s not the first time. Occupational hazard. I’m a journalist. The kind who makes a living making trouble for people like Botha. People who have contacts in the local police force, as I’ve explained before.’

‘I had no idea,’ said Sansom.

‘You didn’t ask and I didn’t say, so there’s no reason why you should. They asked me what I’d been doing in Bebek this morning. Why I’d been hanging around Botha’s. I told them to prove that I had. They said that they had CCTV footage. I told them to show it to me. They couldn’t. They didn’t have it. They asked me questions about you. I said, who? They were fishing without bait.

‘Finally, they asked me where I was this afternoon and if I could tell them anything about an attempted murder in Taksim. I told them where I was, that I could prove it and that I couldn’t help them. We played the game and then they kept me waiting around while they checked out my story. Then they brought me back to see if you were here.’

‘Attempted murder?’

‘That’s what they said; looks like my friend was misinformed.’

‘Shit,’ said Sansom.

‘What’s wrong? Not happy that you didn’t kill him?’

‘It’s what I said to him before I shot him.’

She waited for him to expand on that before saying, ‘Well?’

‘I’m sure I asked him if he’d ever been to the Pacific Ocean, Jackson Island. If he lives through it and remembers, they can work out why I’m here.’

‘You want them to know, don’t you?’

‘Eventually, yes, but when I’m ready.’ The notion that they would be able to get some sort of a hook on him disturbed Sansom. It felt like a little more of the control of the situation that he’d enjoyed and needed was slipping away from him. ‘Will they come back?’

She shrugged. ‘I doubt it, but they may make me a subject for their watchers. They’ll certainly be taking more of an interest in my movements. They didn’t have anything real that they could confront me with, but that doesn’t mean that they believed me.’

She poured herself another glass of wine and one for him. ‘You don’t have to drink it,’ she said. ‘But if you don’t then I might end up drinking the whole bottle and in the morning I’d hate myself for it and you for not helping.’ The wine had brought some colour back to her face and seemed to be relaxing her.

Sansom picked up the glass, raised it to her and drank. It tasted wonderful. Alison and he had regularly enjoyed wine together. This was his first glass since she was murdered. It occurred to him with a guilty pang that another thread of his connection with her was broken.

She said, ‘We should eat something.’

He agreed, realising that he hadn’t had a proper meal since the previous evening.

She rummaged around in a drawer, pulling out a sheaf of take-away menus. ‘I’m not much of a cook,’ she said.

She ordered pizza and they agreed that because the police could return at any time he should return to the flat upstairs. When the food arrived, she would come to him.

 

*

 

Thirty minutes later she was at his door, changed and looking refreshed, her short hair still damp. The scent of pizza flowed into the flat behind her, mingled with a subtle feminine fragrance. She had another bottle of wine under her arm. She handed it to him for opening.

‘It’s been a long day,’ she said.

With the apartment’s shutters lowered to their fullest extent, they were safe from prying eyes. They sat at the kitchen table eating, drinking and talking, an unspoken understanding to stay away from the business tying them together, if only for a short while. He asked her about her work, she about his life before. Eventually, he came to a point where he could either steer away from what happened on The Rendezvous, his life on the island and since, or tell her everything.

Because he wanted her to understand his reasoning and at times his lack of it; because he wanted her to appreciate his depth of commitment to the path he had set himself on; because he wanted her to know why he had acted the way he had that afternoon and about the strength and depth of his loathing for Botha and his men, and finally because he wanted her help, her support, but above all her connivance, he told her everything.

She listened in silence, moving only to sip her wine and to smoke. When he told her of the loss of his wife and baby daughter, her eyes filled with tears. She listened attentively as he detailed his months on the island, his ultimate rescue and return to England, and the events that followed, which brought him to Istanbul.

By the end of the telling, he was physically and emotionally exhausted. However, he sensed in the way that she now looked at him a softening of her feelings towards him; a development of understanding for his actions so far, and an empathy born of their common losses. His outpouring had also served to reinvigorate his own resolve to achieve his aim or perish trying.

‘There cannot be any halfway for you, can there?’ she said. He shook his head. ‘With what you’ve lost, I can’t blame you. I wouldn’t try to persuade you away from it.’

They sipped at their wine in silence for a while before she said, ‘This politician, Bishop? Do you trust him? His information? His motives?’

Sansom smiled at her. ‘He’s a politician. By definition they can’t be trusted more than you’d trust a fox in a chicken house.’

‘So why are you believing everything that he’s feeding you?’

‘Bishop has got me here, away from the constraints of British justice. He’s funding me. Whether I trust him or not isn’t really the issue. I’m using him.’

‘Are you sure it’s not the other way around?’

‘What are you getting at?’

‘Question everything. It’s what we were taught all the time in journalist school. You don’t last long in the business if you don’t.’

‘I don’t understand.’

She took a deep breath, collecting her thoughts, not easy after the quantity of red wine that she’d consumed. ‘What you’ve told me, about Botha’s reasons behind the hijacking and murders, his motives for such an atrocity, it just doesn’t seem like his line of work. He’s too big a player to concern himself with a bit of insurance fraud. It’s too small for him. His deals involve seven-figure sums, not six.’

‘But you told me yourself that Botha was responsible for the death of your brother because of extortion. That isn’t exactly big money.’

She nodded agreement. ‘But that was some time ago. He was a smaller player then. Botha’s built his reputation quickly, moved on to much bigger things. If he were a politician the press would describe his rise as meteoric.’

‘So, maybe he just can’t resist a bit of dirty business, no matter how much or how little is involved. Some people are like that.’

‘Maybe you’re right,’ she said, stifling a yawn. ‘I’m just naturally suspicious.’

It was well into the night. They had both drunk more than they should have. They said their goodnights and Eda left for her flat below, with an arrangement that she would return in the morning to discuss what they would do next.

 

*

 

Sansom showered, used the toothbrush of the absent tenant and went to bed. Tired and alcoholically-affected as his mind was, he lay awake for some time, turning over in his thoughts what Eda had suggested about Bishop and his motives for setting him on his path. He also dwelt briefly on the possibility that Eda was the one who was informing Smith of his movements, and if she were, why would she have voiced suspicions about his sponsor? It didn’t make sense. Eventually, in a state of extreme unease, he succumbed to sleep.

 

***

 

 

9

A barely perceptible pin-prick of dullness appeared in the distance. Instinctively, he began to haul his leaden existence, fatigued, spent, towards his salvation. The pin-prick expanded, brightened, became a diffused glow. Wearily ascending from the abyss, he struggled upwards, exerting every sinew, clawing at the darkness, the urge to survive desperate. His lungs agonisingly crushed, fighting for breath, for life, excruciatingly helpless. Nothing left: exhausted, drained, sapped. A sinking dizziness, resigned submission. The fight lost. His agonising exertions, frantic thrashings, were at an end. Defeat. Gravity the victor.

A hand, an arm, reaching out from the world above; clasping his outstretched fingers, a firm familiar grip dragging him to safety. Brightness increasing. Dazzling. Bursting through the surface. Gasping, sucking, filling his shrivelled lungs with warm salty air. Relief flooding his whole being. Staring into the face of his beautiful wife, his reason, his responsibility, his saviour. Her remarkable features moving towards him, eyes closing, lips parting, intense heat.

Then nothing.

He started awake in the unfamiliar bed with only a sheet over him. The room was not hot, yet the perspiration flowed freely from every pore. His breathing was ragged, his heart raced. Sansom lay staring up at the ceiling, giving his system and mind a chance to stabilise, resigned now to the horrors that regularly plagued his sleep.

As he waited, he wondered how many different ceilings he had woken up staring at in the last few weeks and then how many more he would see before this was over. What would his ceiling be in a month? A coffin lid? A prison cell? Then he wondered how long the nightmares would stay with him – whether he called out to Alison as part of it. The only thing he knew for sure at that moment was that his head ached from the wine.

He peeled back the damp sheets and, for a few moments more, lay fingering the wedding band that still hung from the makeshift thong around his neck before swinging his legs off the bed and heading for the shower.

On the way to the bathroom, he passed a full-length mirror. He stopped and looked at his naked form in it. He was still unused to seeing himself so thin. It was as though he was looking through a window at someone else, but it no longer disturbed him like it first had. His full tan accentuated his muscle definition, honed by twelve months of hard survival living, as it did the recent white scarring across his stomach. He had replaced some of his lost body mass since being back in civilisation and although he was still a long way off his former weight, he no longer looked like an advanced hunger-striker.

He’d boxed for his regiment as a Heavyweight. By the time he left the island, he had dropped down to somewhere in Lightweight and was now balancing on the borders of Welterweight and Middleweight. A few kilos more and he’d be satisfied.

He considered his hair – bright blond and past his shoulders. While he was indifferent to the surfer look that it gave him, it allowed him options for future presentation. At present anyone involved in searching for him would be watchful for his most distinctive feature – a mop of blond hair. He reasoned to himself that dying his hair, as Eda suggested, would give him a new look and buy him some more anonymous time in the city. If and when the time came that he thought the long, dark hair had outlived its usefulness, he would simply cut it all off and earn himself some more valuable time.

Showered and dressed, he managed to locate some proper coffee and a cafetière. The scent of coffee brewing spread throughout the flat, prompting more memories for him as only smells can. He allowed himself to drift along with it until a shrill alarm intruded, bringing him instantly alert. Realising that it was only the doorbell and seeing Eda through the spy-hole, alone, he opened the door.

‘Good morning,’ she said, walking past him.

‘Good morning. How are you feeling?’

‘If you mean, do I have a sore head? then yes, a little.’ She sniffed the air. ‘But nothing that a strong cup of proper coffee wouldn’t cure.’ She moved into the kitchen and poured herself one. Keeping her back to him, she said, ‘I hope that I didn’t say anything stupid last night or make any sort of fool of myself. I don’t often drink that much. It can make me a bit… ridiculous.’

‘You were fine. I think we both probably overdid the wine. But it was good to talk about it all to someone. Thank you.’

She turned to face him, locked eyes with him and, with a half smile that conveyed everything, nodded her understanding. ‘What now?’

While waiting for her to appear, he had thought again of the possibility that she was an informant for Smith, reporting on his moves and intentions. He’d balanced the pros and cons of this and how it should impact on what he would tell her from now, how he would involve her. For the present, he had little choice and, he believed, little to lose by being honest with her. After all, whether she was working for Smith or not, the goal appeared to be common. But the fact that she had called into question Bishop’s motives and trustworthiness continued to confuse him.

For now, he had decided that that detail was peripheral, something to deal with later. It would be enough for him to be mindful and vigilant to the possibility.

‘Did you get the hair dye, yesterday?’

‘Yes. It’s downstairs.’

‘Good. You’re right. I need a new look. But I’ve never dyed my hair before.’

She smiled at him, fully revealing her even white teeth and giving him another glimpse, he thought with a twinge of guilt, of how attractive she truly was. ‘Well I’ve done lots of it,’ she said. ‘Blue, red, pink, not all mine, but I know what I’m doing, so I can help you with that. And afterwards?’

‘Get the dye and we can talk about it while you’re making me look more Turkish.’

 

*

 

Detective Inspector Tallis returned to work the day after his meeting with Captain Harris. Brushing aside questions and concerns about his health, he settled himself at his desk with a mug of instant coffee and put a call through to his opposite number in the Met. After re-introductions, they got down to business.

‘Any word your end on Sansom?’ said the Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector.

Tallis had decided not to share all that he knew with his counterpart in London. ‘Nothing, yet. The military are still stonewalling us. I was going to ask you the same thing.’

‘Nothing. They gave us the same story they told you – deceased owing to post-operation complications. It stinks, if you ask me. Either he is alive and well and roaming around because they’ve lost him or someone has just set the whole scene up to make us believe that he was there. Leaving their bullshit aside, we don’t have a physical sighting of him anywhere, not even on one of the hundreds of CCTV cameras monitoring this area, so we can’t categorically tie him to the incident. Of course, there is another possibility.’

‘Go on.’

‘Perhaps, he’s on some sort of special ops, taking care of some dirty business that the military don’t want to be seen to be involved in. It wouldn’t be the first time that the military had stuck two fingers up to the law of the land. Of course, they never admit to anything and trying to get information out of them is like banging your head against a brick wall.’

‘What makes you think that they might be involved in this?’

‘The murder victim – a very opinionated and outspoken critic of elements of our armed services and some of their less publicised and less glorious achievements. Specialised in digging up the muck on high-profile individuals and then spreading it around.’

They agreed to keep pressuring the military separately for information and to keep each other informed of any developments.

Tallis sat massaging his temples, mulling over details. He took the material that Harris had given him from his briefcase and began leafing through it once more. He realised that he needed to detach himself from his personal involvement and start observing and thinking more objectively, like a policeman. Why had Sansom chosen to write an account of it all at that time? Why not wait until whatever he was involved in was completed? Perhaps he didn’t give himself much of a chance to succeed. He clearly didn’t trust Bishop.

As the policeman sat staring at the account Sansom had written, he noticed again that the top of the paper had been crudely torn off. He picked it up to read it again and, in the bright light of the morning, noticed that the paper was water-marked. He moved to the window and studied it. He could clearly make out a simple illustration of a building accompanied by three capital letters.

Using the Internet, it didn’t take him long to establish which hotel chain the notepaper had come from and from there to locate where they were situated in the country. He reasoned that because the most recent events involving Sansom had centred on London it was probable that he had stayed at one of the hotels close to or in the metropolis. There were three possibilities. One stuck out – Gatwick. Now he believed he knew why Sansom had submitted his story. He was leaving the country.

Taking account of the murder in London, Tallis was able to work out the earliest time Sansom could have checked into the hotel. He phoned the hotel to discover that the receptionist team who would have been on duty at that time would be at the desk again from eight o’clock that evening. He took a name and advised them to expect him that night.

Next, he called Gatwick airport. Eventually, he was able to speak to staff that could help him find out whether an Acer Sansom had taken a flight anytime since Tuesday. As he sat in his office awaiting a reply, his suspicions led him to consider whether his instincts were right or whether the whole Gatwick lead was a red herring.

 

*

 

Eda had insisted in doing a thorough salon job on his hair. Not only had she washed and dyed it, but she had also sat him down and blow dried it, despite his protestations. Sansom had found it increasingly difficult throughout the process to keep his mind focussed on the fact that this was merely a cosmetic procedure, born out of necessity and nothing more. The close proximity of her, the inevitable bumping and touching, the feel of her strong hands massaging his scalp and the scent of her fragrance all combined to induce long-suppressed primitive feelings that he battled to contain.

In contrast, it seemed to him that for her it was nothing more than the physical act that it was, like sweeping a floor or polishing a table. She seemed businesslike and detached. They might actually have been in a crowded hairdresser’s.

When she had finished, she stepped back to appraise her work and seemed pleased with the result. He checked himself in the full-length mirror and while he nodded his approval he couldn’t help remembering himself standing in that same spot not two hours previously, naked. With some effort, he quickly derailed that train of thought. Eda poured them more coffee.

‘It’s a great job,’ he said. ‘Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome. So, what will you do now?’

‘I want to take another look at where he lives. I’m going to take the boat again. I have an idea about something.’

‘You want to share it?’

He smiled at her. ‘Not yet: when I’m sure about it.’ Her features assumed a look of doubt. ‘I promise,’ he said. ‘I really just want to check something out. And I’ll be better off alone. I know the way, how to get there. Besides, if they start to watch you as you said they might, we can’t be seen together – and a pleasure boat is not somewhere that I want to get cornered by anyone.’

She nodded her understanding. ‘Then I’ll go into the office. I have some work to catch up on. And I suppose that it will look better, more normal, if I carry on my usual life. I can give you a lift to the boats if you like.’

He accepted her offer and was pleased that she hadn’t resisted his suggestion. It showed that she was being sensible about things. In truth, he wanted to involve her less in what he was doing. Lines had been crossed. The previous day’s interrogation had been an indicator of how things could become. And that was with the law. He doubted very much that if Botha’s men became involved they would be so polite, law abiding and restrained in their questioning.

 

*

 

They made their way down to the underground car park by the stairs. He got into the back of the car and she covered him with a blanket. Not very dignified but sensible. He was getting used to it.

After some minutes of driving, when she was certain that there was nothing following them, he half sat up and watched the traffic behind for a short while. It was quickly apparent that nothing was following them. Anyone trying to keep up with her speed and manoeuvring would have been obvious in their wake. There were some advantages to her driving style. He clambered over into the front seat next to her.

The bright light and heat of a beautiful day beat down on the city from clear skies. Vehicle numbers swelled as they approached the centre. Lanes congested, speeds slowed and tempers frayed. Eventually, they came to the closest point that she could manage to the docks. Fishermen still crowded the bridge railings and concrete apron. A couple of ships were moored, rocking in the gentle swell awaiting another load of tourists to ferry up and down the waterway.

As she stopped to let him out, there was an awkward moment between them as they parted, but this was hurried along by the impatient hooting of the car behind them. Ignoring it, she grabbed one of her business cards from the door pocket, scribbled her address on the reverse and thrust it at him. ‘In case you get lost,’ she said.

Standing on the quayside, he breathed in and savoured the sea air wafting up the channel as he watched her car zigzag through traffic and out of sight. He turned his back on the ferry terminal, the ships, the water and the boatmen calling out their offers and was quickly lost in the milling crowds.

 

*

 

Two hours after his enquiry to the Gatwick authorities, DI Tallis received a call from an enthusiastic and helpful young lady at the airport who was able to assure him that no one using the name Acer Sansom had recently flown out of there. In fact, she was kind enough to detail that the only passenger with the surname Sansom who had travelled in the last week was female and aged sixty-four. The detective took the operator’s name, thanked her and terminated the call.

He planted his elbows on the desk, put his hands together as in prayer, thumbs supporting his chin, and considered. Certainly, he was disappointed, but he still had the evening trip to the hotel to make before he became anything like disconsolate. Years of experience had taught him that police work was rarely straightforward or simple or quick.

 

*

 

Sansom had no qualms about borrowing a scooter without asking. After all, he was wanted for attempted murder – sheep and lambs. And he didn’t consider it a particular risk. The two-wheeled take-away delivery vehicles were truly ubiquitous and therefore paradoxically anonymous. Name an international fast-food outlet and it could be almost guaranteed that within minutes you’d see one of their delivery bikes buzzing through traffic, cutting in and out, riding the pavements and generally being a nuisance everywhere. Add to that the dozens of only-national and then only-local food outlets also delivering their own fare throughout the day and you had a subsection of society who were so numerous and commonplace that no one appeared to take any notice of them – perfect suburban camouflage.

Compounding this was the trusting nature he had also observed of the riders themselves. Several times in his short stay in Istanbul, he had noticed that when riders arrived at a delivery destination they would invariably hook their helmet on one of the bike’s mirrors and leave the keys in the ignition as they strove to make their delivery deadlines and get back into traffic with haste and ease. Besides, who would want to steal a scooter advertising pizza?

He’d owned and ridden motorcycles since he was a boy. He hadn’t been on a scooter since his youth, but it was essentially riding a bicycle, which according to popular folklore one never forgot how to do.

He waited until the delivery boy had disappeared into the business complex, put the helmet on, started the engine, eased into the flow of traffic and became anonymous.

Using the sun and the Bosphorus, when he could see it, he navigated his way back towards Botha’s estate. Riding in the Istanbul traffic was demanding, more so because one miscalculation, one lapse in concentration, would see him under the wheels of any one of the numerous vehicles that constantly surrounded him, vying for their positions. With no protective clothing, that was something he particularly wanted to avoid. His respect for the mass of delivery riders who dashed around the city increased with every mile.

Out of the main tourist district, the traffic congestion eased slightly and he was able to relax a little, enjoy the feeling of bike-riding in fine weather – and think more of his purpose for the trip.

 

*

 

Fifteen minutes later, he was back in the road where he and Eda had been caught out. Before they had been forced to turn tail and run, he had noticed that there were narrow lanes running down each side of Botha’s property. As a lost pizza-delivery-man, he felt he had his best chance of exploring them without attracting any adverse attention.

He puttered down one to a dead end. On both sides and in front of him, he was confronted with high walls topped with nasty-looking coils of razor wire. He performed a U-turn, puttered past Botha’s gates under the watchful gaze of the CCTV camera, and veered down the second narrow lane that ran alongside Botha’s property. At the end of this pathway, the Bosphorus shimmered brilliantly in the midday light. Conscious to continue playing his part as a lost delivery-rider, he made his way towards the sea, putting on a show for the cameras of looking from left to right as though for a house number.

The end of the track opened out on to a concrete apron that spread down to the water’s edge. He rolled to a stop in the shade of a large tree that overhung the path and took out his map. He made an exaggerated show of studying it.

On the concrete was parked one of the big Audis that had steamed past him the day before. The large yacht, much more impressive close-up than it had been from the ferry, was still moored at the little private quay. The stern bore the name Stella. There was plenty of activity around it; suitcases and packing cases were being carried aboard. Sansom’s spirits sank as he experienced a sense of ominous foreboding. Someone was getting ready to take a trip; a long one by the looks of things.

A firm clasp of his shoulder brought him quickly back to his situation. He turned to find a large, shaven-headed white man in a tailored suit staring at him from behind designer sunglasses. A neat thin scar ran from his temple to the corner of his mouth. The man spoke to him. The ticking-over of the engine and Sansom’s full face crash helmet combined to muffle what he said. Sansom shook his head in reply raising his hands, palms up, in a universal gesture of non-understanding.

The man raised his voice and spoke slowly and deliberately, as though that would instantly overcome the language barrier. Sansom recognised the heavily accented South African English in the question being asked of him. ‘Where are you looking for?’

Realising that, as a simple pizza-delivery-man, he would not be expected to understand what was being asked of him, he pointed at the map resting on the handlebars of the bike. The big man gave the map a cursory glance and pointed a thick, ringed finger back the way Sansom had come. Sansom nodded in reply, stuffed the map back into his shirt and rode off. Looking in his rear view mirror, he saw the man staring after him, the walkie-talkie in his hand coming up to his mouth. They were either very careful or very worried.

At the main road, he turned to continue away from the city centre. He waited until he reached a more built-up area, turned a few corners and left the bike in a quiet alley. No point in pushing his luck with it.

On foot, he followed the road back to the main drag, hailed a taxi, named the tourist destination where he and Eda had been dropped off the day before, and settled back in the seat to contemplate the implications of Botha being on the yacht and soon out of Istanbul, possibly in the middle of an ocean somewhere and therefore untouchable.

 

*

 

Back in the city and depressed, he returned to the coffee bar that he and Eda had visited the day before. He ordered and took a seat in the gloomy interior where he could take advantage of the air conditioning. He tried Eda’s mobile phone; with her contacts she could probably discover whether Botha was indeed destined for open water. She didn’t pick up. He took her business card from his pocket and tried the office number. A recorded message in a language that he didn’t understand greeted him. He rang off, tried her mobile again. Nothing. He tried not to worry. There could be a hundred reasons why he wasn’t able to get through to her.

He drained his coffee and headed out into the perpetually-thronging crowds in a direction that he hoped would find him on the way back to the apartment block.

One good thing that he was coming to realise about Istanbul was that one was never far from several taxis that were desperate for business. He hailed the first empty one that he saw, showed the driver the card with the apartment address on it and mentally prepared himself for another white-knuckle ride.

He soon realised that his anxieties were unfounded in this case. The traffic crawled along at a snail’s pace. If he’d known where to go he would have been quicker walking, but he didn’t. He watched as the meter clicked higher, glad that it was not his money he was spending.

Twenty minutes and many lira later, he began to recognise some of the buildings. The taxi cut across traffic, incurring the inevitable wrath and scolding of motorists travelling in the opposite direction. Sansom stole a glance at the driver, who remained unmoved and impassive – water off a duck’s back. Turning his attention back to the street, he saw a large, black Audi parked opposite Eda’s apartment block.

The driver began to slow as they approached the front of the building, muttering in guttural Turkish. To the driver’s obvious surprise, Sansom became animated, waving him on and around the corner into the next street, out of sight of both the car and the apartment block. A minute later, he was on the pavement and the taxi was gone.

Taking advantage of some thick shrubbery, he watched the Audi for a minute. There were no signs of occupation, although the heavily-tinted windows made it impossible for him to be sure whether there was anyone in it. He dialled Eda’s mobile phone, listened to it ringing for a while and then clamped his shut. Taking out his apartment keys, he turned down into the vehicle access for the underground car park, activating the electric shutter with the little key fob.

Eda’s car was inside. He touched the bonnet. It was warm. He let himself into the building through the heavy metal security door and supported it to close with a gentle click. He cursed under his breath as the movement-sensitive lights clicked on, illuminating the stairwell. He stood motionless for a long moment. The lights turned off. They stayed off. No sound vibrated down the staircase. He moved again, the lights came back on. Slowly, he made his way up.

He assumed the worst – assumed that the vehicle outside was one of Botha’s; assumed that if it was then there would have been at least two men in it; assumed that they wouldn’t just be sitting outside; assumed that, like the man who had followed him into the alley, they were armed; assumed that they were in Eda’s flat; assumed that they weren’t as restrained or as law abiding as the local police. They would suspect that he was responsible for the attack on their colleague. They would know of Eda’s connection with him. They were there for him, or information that would lead them to him. And they probably wouldn’t care how they got it.

He paused as he came to Eda’s floor, straining to hear sounds from her apartment. Nothing. He took out his phone and called her again. From inside the flat, he heard the familiar music of her ring tone and then a male voice. The phone rang on. He terminated the connection.

He went up a floor, hesitated outside the door to the friend’s flat, wondering if there would be a surprise waiting for him. With no time or choice, he put the key in the lock and quietly let himself in. Silence. He retrieved the pistol, checked it and decided.

 

*

 

Eda sat in her living room. She had company – uninvited and unwelcome visitors. One was tall and slim, the other shorter and obviously greedier.

Again, Eda’s phone began ringing and vibrating on the bare wooden polished surface of the table in front of her.

‘I told you to leave it,’ said the tall man, as she moved in her seat. She glared at him, her cheek still smarting from the slap he’d given her. He continued looking out at the street below. As he opened his mouth to add something, the door bell shattered the quiet, making them all start. The two men looked at each other. The telephone continued to ring and jig.

The fat man moved quietly to the door and looked through the spy-hole. He stepped back into the room.

‘You ordered pizza?’

The phone continued its song and dance. She nodded.

The tall one checked the street. ‘I don’t see a delivery bike.’

‘It’s from the place around the corner. I ordered it before I came up.’

The phone continued its ringing and juddering.

‘Is it paid for?’ Eda nodded. Turning to his fat colleague, he said, ‘We might as well eat it then, while we wait.’

They grinned at each other. The fat man disappeared back into the hallway. Eda heard the door open. The tall man read something on her face, held a finger to his lips and gave her a look that convinced her that it would be a bad thing for her and the delivery boy if she were to start making a scene.

The phone continued its noise and distraction on the table.

The fat man came back into the room holding two large pizza boxes in front of him. He was not wearing the look of a greedy man who had just been given free food. He was also no longer wearing his Glock with silencer attachment.

Sansom came into the room behind him, the Glock out in front of him. A flash of fury scudded across the tall man’s features. His mouth began to snarl something as he brought up his own silenced pistol. Realising that he was in the line of fire, the fat man began his evasive action. Sansom delayed a split second and then fired. The shot hit the tall man in the middle of his chest, punching him back against a bookcase. Despite the bullet delivering him a mortal wound, he was able to fire one round himself before slumping to the floor.

Sansom swung the Glock round to bear on his confederate but this proved unnecessary. A fountain of arterial blood was spurting from his neck. The fat man clamped his hands to his fat throat, collapsed to his knees and fell forward on to the coffee table. A metal dish crashed to the floor, scattering potpourri across his soon-to-be-dead form.

The phone continued its song and dance.

Eda sat rigid with eyes wide and a horrified expression contorting her face.

‘Are there any more?’ said Sansom. She shook her head. ‘Don’t move.’

He went to the tall one, checked his neck for a pulse. Satisfied that he was dead, he turned to the other. His open staring eyes indicated that life there was also extinct. He turned back to Eda, ‘Are you all right?’

She nodded quickly. She saw him looking at the mark on her face. ‘It’s nothing,’ she said. She started to get up.

‘Don’t,’ he said, holding up his hand towards her. ‘Just, please, stay there while I think.’ She resumed her place. A pool of blood had begun to push across the polished flooring towards him. He stepped back from it.

The phone stopped ringing. His telephone service provider was clearly unwilling to let it ring for ever.

‘You had no choice,’ she said. ‘He would have shot you.’

‘I know that.’

‘It’s self defence. You only killed one of them.’

‘Don’t forget that I’m also being sought for attempted murder. There was no self defence in that. Who do you think would believe me?’

‘But I’m a witness.’ She went quiet then, realising the reality of his situation.

After a minute, he said, ‘There is a way out of this. It’s almost the truth.’

 

***

 

 

10

The senior police officer present, Captain Yasin Durum of the Istanbul Police Department, sat opposite Eda in her kitchen area. A small table, empty apart from an ashtray, sat between them. Both were smoking, the ashtray already half full. A bustle of activity filled the room behind them as forensic, mortuary and various police staff went about their businesses. Objectively and professionally, they surveyed, observed, photographed, collected and recorded evidence and information that would later be used either to convict Eda of a crime, or crimes, or exonerate her.

The Captain, an experienced and seasoned homicide detective, hoped that his colleagues would find incontrovertible evidence because he didn’t believe the story of the woman in front of him. His eyes swept her face again, looking for evidence of her lying. While clearly in shock and anxious, she was far from the hysterical jabbering wreck he would have expected to find as the sole survivor and witness of such an incident.

He couldn’t believe her story because, although what she described of the evening’s events was not physically impossible, it simply made no sense. And in his significant experience of investigating homicide in the city, statistically the vast majority of stories surrounding enough of them made some sort of sense. The remainder that didn’t had usually been concocted to hide something.

Captain Durum was not the kind of investigative officer who charged in, questioning suspects in an aggressive manner. Too often he’d seen witnesses clam up, become uncooperative, start demanding their lawyers. With such approaches the due process of law could become a slow and awkward beast. Better to remain on good terms wherever possible. Don’t take diversion and lying personally. Pit one’s wits and do one’s best. After all, it was only a job; nothing to give oneself a heart attack over. He was a firm believer that the truth will out – eventually.

The two dead men had been thoroughly searched and no form of identification had been found on either. In fact, neither man had anything in his pockets at all. No car keys, no mobile phones, no wallets, no small change – not so much as a stick of gum. This in itself was extremely unusual. The unusualness was compounded by the facts that both wore matching tailored suits and expensive shoes, and clearly neither was a Turkish national.

Leaning forward, he positioned his elbows on the table in front of him, one fist enveloped in his other hand. Smoke curled up from the cigarette clamped between his fingers, making him squint. With his thumb, he absently caressed his moustache. A long moment stretched out between them, their eyes locked.

He tried again, friendly, patient: ‘Just so that I’m quite clear on this, they were waiting for you inside the underground garage when you returned from work?’ She nodded. ‘They brought you upstairs at gunpoint?’ She nodded.

‘They brought you into the flat and then questioned you about someone who they were looking for?’ She nodded. ‘Someone who you’ve never heard of?’ She nodded. ‘When one of them struck you,’ he indicated the side of her face, ‘the other remonstrated with him?’ She nodded. ‘This argument between them escalated and they shot each other?’ She nodded.

He’d hoped that such a simplified retelling of what was so obviously a ridiculous scenario would either shame or embarrass her into some kind of guilt and subsequent outpouring of truth. But he was wrong. The simplicity appeared to appeal to her more than her own slightly more detailed version of events.

He stubbed out his cigarette and let out a long sigh. He didn’t doubt elements of her story – someone had obviously struck her face and there were two dead men in the flat – however, he was convinced that she was leaving out a good deal of information and almost certainly other people. Despite his professional suspicions and her obvious covering up, he had some sympathy with her.

For Captain Durum, the strange thing was that the visible evidence in the room behind them did not contradict anything that she said. If anything, it all fitted too nicely. Perhaps the invisible evidence would not fit as well.

He played his last card. ‘Well, I’m afraid that we’re not done with you yet. You’ll have to come down to the station with us and make a formal statement.’ He studied her face intently. ‘And as a formality, we’ll have to swab your hands for residue. Just routine.’ She nodded, clearly unperturbed by the prospect. He knew then that this too would be a mere formality. They wouldn’t find anything on her.

 

*

 

Tentatively, but with the urgency that the situation demanded, Sansom had explained his idea. He had been half fearful that she would explode at him for his assumption and suggestion that she should put herself in such a position so that he could remain out of it.

Although she was holding up well considering what she had just witnessed and the tableau of death that lay undisturbed in the next room, she was clearly in shock. She listened closely, questioned him on a couple of points, heard him out when he said that if things went badly for her with the authorities then he would come forward, take full blame, swear that he had threatened her, her family, put the fear of God into her if she didn’t cooperate. His other crimes in the city would lend a sense of authenticity to this. At the end of his reasoning, he repeated something that they had discussed only the day before – it would be up to the law to disprove her version of events. He would make sure that all the evidence agreed with what they discussed. Then it would be up to her to keep her nerve.

She agreed to his proposal, agreed to put herself in extreme danger, not just from the legal system, but from the inevitable backlash that would come from Botha when it became clear what had happened to his men.

Unknown to Sansom, she didn’t need much persuading for this. The incursion into her life, her home, by these gangsters; being threatened, beaten and pushed around by them was a final straw for her. She was not going to sit around doing nothing any longer, waiting for more of Botha’s men to come visiting. She had decided that she was going to do something about the way these men swaggered about her city with impunity. It might not be much, but it would be something. Her hatred for Botha raged inside her as it had at her brother’s death.

When it was agreed between them, Sansom went about constructing the evidence to fit the version of events that Eda would give to the police. He went through the dead men’s clothing and removed all of their possessions – a tactic, he explained, designed to delay and confuse.

Both men had been wearing leather gloves. Any residue from the gunshot would be evident on the glove of the man that Sansom had shot and his weapon would clearly show that he had indeed killed his partner. However, the man who had been shot through the neck would not have any such residue on his glove. Sansom had peeled one of these from the dead man’s hand, put it on himself, opened the window and after careful consideration of the environment, fired a round off high into the tree trunk opposite – the silenced pop inaudible above a passing vehicle. He had then replaced the glove on the dead man’s hand and the pistol in his tightening grip.

Finally, he had collected the empty pizza boxes from the previous night, the dead men’s belongings, his belongings from the flat upstairs, the Audi car keys, and, after a final word with Eda, had left the building. They couldn’t take the chance that the police might discover that the flat upstairs was being minded by Eda and then have him found in it. As Eda watched him drive away, she put a call through to the police. Her delay in doing so could reasonably be attributed to shock.

 

*

 

Tallis pulled up outside the Gatwick hotel a little before nine o’clock. He could have made better time on his journey but reasoned that he should give the night shift the opportunity to settle into their duties.

At reception, he introduced himself and was asked to wait for the duty manager, who appeared quickly and showed the DI through to a small office at the rear. After introductions, the policeman explained his reason for the visit. The duty manager summoned the register. The register bore no entry for an Acer Sansom. The policeman tried not to appear unduly disappointed by this. He asked if he could speak to whoever was on the desk the evening that he believed Sansom might have stayed there. A pretty, petite blonde girl was ushered into the office. Tallis smiled at her in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. He then produced a photograph of Sansom. It was an Army mugshot. Not a great likeness, he’d have to concede, but the best that he could do.

‘Do you recognise this man?’ he said. ‘He would have checked in late Monday night.’ Tallis suddenly held no great hope that the girl in front of him would be very helpful. She looked fifteen and about as attentive as a teenage girl with better things to do. She screwed up her face, holding the picture at arm’s length for a moment.

With a conviction that surprised the policeman, she said, ‘Yes. It’s not a good likeness though. You should get a more up-to-date photograph. He’s lost weight since this was taken and has blond hair down to about here,’ she indicated her shoulders. The duty manager shifted uncomfortably at her blunt manner. Tallis beamed at her. He hadn’t mentioned anything about Sansom’s change in appearance.

‘But he didn’t check in under the name of Sansom,’ she continued. She examined the register, open still on the duty manager’s desk, and ran her finger down the relevant page. ‘Here he is,’ she said. ‘Daniel Fallon.’ She stepped back, evidently pleased with herself. Tallis didn’t feel the need to ask her if she was certain.

Ten minutes later Tallis was sitting back in his car, his mobile phone to his ear, waiting for a response to his latest enquiry with Gatwick security. The twenty-four-hour culture of modern society had its uses.

‘Sorry to keep you waiting, Detective Inspector,’ said the young lady on the other end of the line. ‘Right, we have one Daniel Fallon travelling through the airport on Tuesday last – destination Istanbul. He caught the ten-thirty Turkish Airlines. It’s a direct flight, no stops. Gets in to Ataturk Airport, sixteen-thirty local time.’

 

*

 

Sansom climbed in behind the wheel of the Audi with no idea where he would go. But he knew he had to leave quickly and find somewhere to dump the bag of dead men’s belongings, then the car. Then he had to deal with the inevitable post-event emotions and decide what to do next.

Once again, he reflected on how control of the unfolding of events had not been his. Yet again, events had dictated his actions, instead of vice versa. He was simply reacting to things that were happening. Such a process could be expected to lead to only limited success, if any. It was all accidental and accidents made messes. He had been fortunate, so far, with the way things had turned out. That kind of luck couldn’t hold.

Moving off, he cast a look up to Eda’s apartment window, wondering once again how much she would be prepared, or able, to take.

Sansom felt that the Audi, commonplace as a luxury car in the centre of Istanbul, where every other vehicle seemed to be a top of the range and recent model German car, became more conspicuous the further into the districts encircling the centre of the metropolis he pressed. Or was it simply his paranoia rearing up again? It was dark. There was less traffic. No one was actually turning to stare and point as he passed.

Within the hour, he found himself on the outskirts of the city. Roads were clearer, houses once again more affluent – the Victoria sponge model of modern settlements that could be seen all around the developed world – affluence and wealth, the poorer communities and then more affluence and wealth. The have-nots always nicely sandwiched to service the needs of the haves and to do their dirty jobs. He considered turning around. He’d come too far. If he dumped the vehicle here, where would he go? How would he get back into Istanbul? Somewhere in the car a phone began to ring.

He glanced down at the plastic bag on the seat beside him. An illuminated display was flashing in the darkness. He pulled over, took the phone from the bag and accepted the identity-restricted call.

A strong, deep South African voice said, ‘What’s happening?’

‘Three down. How many to go?’ said Sansom.

The inevitable pause that followed gave Sansom the opportunity to imagine the cogs meshing in the mind of the caller, computing, disbelieving, accepting, considering. Clearly disbelief was greatest.

‘Who is this?’

‘Who do you think?’

The voice, while remaining calm and patient, had developed an unmistakeable undertone of menace when it spoke next. ‘Who are you? What do you want?’

‘You’ll find out who I am. And it’s not what I want, it’s who?’ Sansom realised that he was enjoying himself, his anonymity and his threat.

The caller played along: ‘All right, who do you want?’

‘Every one of you. And then Botha.’

The deep gravelly sound of laughter exploded out of the handset. ‘Very dramatic. You won’t get within a mile of him.’

‘I already have,’ said Sansom, ‘twice’.

‘Maybe on land. You’re a dead man walking, whoever you are.’ The false humour had gone. ‘You and that interfering bitch.’

‘Funny,’ said Sansom, sounding not the least bit amused, ‘you’re the second person to say that to me in as many days. And we both know what happened to the other one.’ He hung up and turned off the phone, feeling a small, feeble little victory. With less satisfaction, he also knew that Botha was now at sea.

A municipal refuse-collection truck was making its erratic way towards him, like some drunken futuristic robotic creature, stopping to gorge itself on the contents of the metal skips that lined the road. Sansom left the car and threw the plastic bag of the dead men’s belongings into one of the skips. He kept two things – the mobile he had just spoken on and the silencer he had removed from one of the guns from Eda’s flat.

Across the street was a small eatery. He was hungry and he needed time to think. A full stomach would help both.

He’d ordered and was waiting when his own phone rang, a withheld number.

‘I don’t believe in coincidence,’ said Smith, ‘so I’m going to assume that the double homicide involving employees of our mutual friend is your doing.’

Sansom cast a look around the restaurant. An old couple, each fixated with the food in front of them – nothing left to say to each other after a lifetime together – and a table of three men arguing over a game of backgammon. He doubted from their appearances that any of them would understand English even if they could hear him. He had already identified himself as a foreigner by the way he had pointed and grunted at the menu when he ordered his meal.

‘I’m fine thanks,’ said Sansom ‘and you?’

‘You’re either very lucky or very stupid,’ said Smith, ignoring the sarcasm. ‘I haven’t decided which, yet.’

‘Maybe I’m just very good.’

‘If you were very good you wouldn’t be wasting valuable time and have every law enforcement officer in Istanbul looking for you.’

Sansom wasn’t in the mood to listen to the criticisms of a man who he believed knew or cared little for how events were unfolding. He said, ‘I can’t talk now.’ and rang off. The soldier reflected that Smith was remarkably well – and quickly – informed for a man fifteen-hundred miles away. Smith had probably got what he wanted anyway, confirmation that Sansom was alive and at liberty.

He was halfway through his meal when his phone rang again – Eda’s number was illuminated on the screen. He knocked his fork clattering to the floor in his haste to answer, raising his hand apologetically to those who looked around at the disturbance.

‘Eda? Are you all right?’

‘This isn’t Eda, obviously,’ said a male voice in good but heavily-accented English. ‘Eda has asked me to call you. I’m a good friend of hers. Of course, you will wonder whether you can believe and trust what I say. She said that you would naturally be suspicious. She has simply asked me to pass some information on to you. Whether you accept it or not is up to you. Frankly, if you are anything to do with the trouble that she is in, you should hope that we never meet. I’m only doing this as a favour to her.’

Sansom was quickly tiring of being threatened by people. ‘How is she? What’s happened to her?’

‘How do you think she is?’ said the man. ‘She hasn’t been arrested,’ he added, in a less hostile tone. ‘Eda is being interviewed at the police station, giving her statement. She has a good lawyer. They don’t have any evidence to hold her with or charge her, yet. She has asked me to pass some information on to you, as I said. Whether you accept it or not is up to you. She said that your friend has gone on holiday to Bodrum.’

‘I’ve never heard of it,’ said Sansom. ‘Where is it?’

‘You must be one of the few English who hasn’t,’ said the caller. ‘It’s on the south coast.’

‘Of Turkey?’

‘Yes, of Turkey.’

‘Thank you,’ said Sansom. ‘Will you give her a message for me?’

‘No,’ said the man. ‘I will not. I suggest that you stay away from her.’ He hung up.

 

*

 

Thirty minutes later Sansom was sitting in the Audi and he had decided his next move. He had transport, which he gambled would not be reported as missing. He felt it was a risk worth taking when measured against his travel options. Flying would be too dangerous and public transport would be too problematic. In any case, he would soon be clear of Istanbul and more importantly its police. And the Audi had satellite navigation. He activated it, holding his breath, exhaling gratefully when he was welcomed in English. He typed in his destination and received information on his route, distance and projected journey time. He checked his watch. If he drove through the night he would probably arrive sometime around noon the following day.

He stared ahead into the darkness. Bodrum – things could have been worse.

 

***

 

 

11

Detective Inspector Tallis spent much of his night on the telephone and then packing. He was a good policeman who’d had a tough year. There was nothing in his workload that couldn’t be shifted across to a brother officer. His Super had no qualms about granting him some leave with immediate effect for personal reasons. That done, he organised himself a last-minute, open-ended and extortionately-priced flight to Istanbul, scheduled to leave the following morning. Unable to sleep, he then sat in his favourite armchair, with his favourite tipple (a single malt whisky) and his pipe, reserved for his more tranquil and prolonged periods of contemplation. He sat and tried to imagine what he would do when he arrived in Turkey.

 

*

 

Eda spent much of her night in a police interview room wearing a disposable all-in-one suit provided by the authorities. She answered more questions, was physically examined by both medical and forensic officers, and then made a statement. She then sat alone for what seemed like hours before her lawyer decided that she had been helpful enough and that the police could either charge or release her. With the evidence, or rather lack of it, they were obliged to release her. When she returned to her apartment building, unable to face her own flat, she took the key to her friend’s from her bag, let herself in and showered for a long time. She borrowed a towelling robe and, unable to sleep, poured herself a glass of wine left over from the previous night, lit one of her cigarettes and curled herself up in a chair. She cursed herself for forgetting to retrieve her mobile phone from her lawyer. Unable to contact Sansom, she instead reflected on what had happened that day and worried about the next.

 

*

 

Sansom spent most of his night driving. He stopped at a petrol station on the outskirts of Istanbul to fill the Audi with fuel, buy energy foods and water, and withdraw as much cash as he could from the ATM. He then settled into the comfort of the luxury vehicle and pulled out into the light traffic. The prospect of the long drive did not perturb him. On the contrary, in his past life he had enjoyed driving, especially solo long-distance trips. He found that it gave him the opportunity to think and unwind, and he needed to do both.

 

*

 

Victor Botha slept little and restlessly that night, despite his pleasant distractions – a multi-million-pound yacht, an open calm sea, cordon bleu cuisine, fine wines and the company of his wife and children, to whom he was devoted. He was also waited on by staff and protected by a team of the best of his own security. Yet his mood reflected none of his trappings.

He listened in stony silence as his head of security briefed him on the unfolding events of the last few days. He stood up and paced when he learned that three of his men had been killed – the first had finally succumbed to his wound – by some as-yet-unknown assassin who was still on the loose. He shouted and bawled when he learned what the assassin claimed to be his objective.

He sat in the lounge of the main cabin, an expensive Cuban cigar clamped in one hand with a cut glass tumbler of fine cognac, and a telephone in the other. The Istanbul police officer on his payroll, to whom he was speaking, was left in no doubt regarding his own future should the mystery killer remain at liberty for much longer.

 

*

 

Smith slept well that night. He slept the sleep of the untroubled, of the seasoned manipulator of people and circumstance, who had long since ceased to allow his work to interrupt his periods of rest. This state was achieved through the meticulous care and extreme lengths to which he would go to maintain an official outward appearance of distance from whatever unsavoury episode he was involved in, thus ultimately and always ensuring deniability. Not everything that Smith became embroiled in turned out quite as he had hoped – one could never plan for every eventuality, especially when people were involved – however, one could make sure that loose ends were tied and no paths of investigation would ever lead to his office door. He was a careful man. One did not last long in his business unless one was very, very careful and one got one’s rest.

 

*

 

Eda awoke late in her friend’s bed and for a moment or two felt rested and relaxed. And then the memories of the previous day flooded into her consciousness, sending her spirits plummeting. She curled herself up and wished it away like a bad dream. The longer she lay there the worse she felt until, unable to bear it any longer, she threw back the covers and dragged herself off for her morning rituals – coffee, cigarette and shower.

An hour later, her mood was little improved. Hanging over her thoughts like a wet blanket was the mess in her own flat that she still had to face. The police had told her they had finished their analysis of the crime scene and that she could clear up when she liked. It was something she neither wanted to do nor leave until later.

Outside her apartment door, she found the building’s door-keeper, who she suspected had been loitering for her arrival. He was a great admirer of her father and felt protective towards, and genuine affection for, Eda. He wouldn’t entertain the idea that she should clean up the detritus of the previous day’s unsavoury events. It would, he impressed upon her, be his duty and honour to spare her such unpleasantness. Grateful beyond words, she embraced him for this kindness.

Averting her eyes from the mess of the living room, she visited her apartment only long enough to change her clothes, make a few phone calls and collect some items. Fifteen minutes later she was threading her way anxiously through Istanbul traffic towards her lawyer’s offices and her mobile telephone.

 

*

 

Sansom arrived in Bodrum in the early afternoon. The events of the previous day and the hours of non-stop driving had combined to catch up with him in the small hours of the morning, when he had suddenly become emotionally and physically exhausted. He had found a quiet spot off the main road and dozed fitfully for a while. As dawn began to break around him, he realised that he would get no more sleep and pressed on.

He drove into the centre of town searching for an underground car park to hide the Audi. He didn’t want to abandon it just yet and he didn’t want it on show. He found what he was looking for in a busy tourist district, took a ticket from the man in the booth, chose a half-concealed parking bay in one corner and, after carefully wiping down surfaces he had touched, walked away.

He found a street of cheap nondescript small hotels and then spent time visiting several before he found somewhere suitable. The desk clerk gave Sansom the impression that the establishment was his own. There couldn’t be many hoteliers who would employ an unshaven, vest-wearing, cigarette-smoking frontman for their business.

Sansom paid cash for a week in advance. At the mention of identification, he produced two hundred-lira notes – double what he had just paid for his stay. A paper trail was not something that he sought to encourage now. The man hesitated for a moment before reaching out a grubby hand for the money. Sansom withdrew it, tore the notes in half, gave two to the man and tucked the others inside his top pocket. The man smiled understanding at him, exposing a set of discoloured, uneven teeth. He passed a room key across to Sansom and pointed towards a narrow unlit stairwell. Sansom felt the man’s eyes on his back as he walked away. His belief in human greed gave him confidence that the man would not be reaching for the telephone, but one could never be certain.

 

*

 

Mr Tallis, a single mature Englishman on holiday in Istanbul, followed the directions given by the airport information desk that would take him to the Havaș bus service. For a meagre ten lira, it would transport him with dozens of other holidaymakers to the centre of the city.

Having tracked the man he had had in custody and then lost, he felt a small satisfaction at being once again close to Sansom. However, he soon realised such a notion was essentially ridiculous because on the plane he had been reading how Istanbul was one of the most densely-populated cities in the world. That statistic alone, coupled with the fact that Sansom clearly wasn’t expecting to be found, brought to mind images of needles and haystacks. Still, he reasoned, he was here and so was his man. It was a start. He owed it to others to be positive, hopeful and thorough. He knew something of what the soldier was here for and he was, after all, an experienced detective. He was also mindful of the fact that he was here in no official capacity; he had no authority and no jurisdiction. He was essentially a holidaymaker and alone, and he needed to remember that.

 

*

 

Eda tried Sansom’s mobile phone once again, let it ring until the answering service cut in and then terminated the call. She had already left two messages. Her dinner companion – her lawyer and family friend – read the concern on her face as he returned to the table from the restroom.

‘No answer?’ he said. She shook her head. ‘There could be a number of reasons why he isn’t picking up.’

‘I know. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be worried about such things. But this is not ordinary.’ She resumed picking at her salad without enthusiasm.

The lawyer tried again: ‘Eda, you really must take my advice seriously and follow it. From what you’ve told me, this man is exceptionally dangerous. You’re already in a great deal of trouble. You could go to jail for a very long time for what you’ve conspired in.’

She met his urgent gaze and held it to affect what she had to say to him. ‘He probably saved my life last night. He didn’t have to.’

The lawyer put down his fork. It clattered on the plate. ‘This whole business that you’ve got yourself mixed up in is…’ he fumbled for the right words, gesturing with his arms, ‘…is idiotic. What do you really hope to achieve by standing up so openly to a man as powerful and immoral as Botha?’ He cast a look around at their fellow diners. Perhaps he was speaking too loudly. He steadied himself for what he had to say to her then. ‘Eda, I’ve spoken with your father this morning.’

Her eyes flared at him. ‘What? You had no right to do that.’

‘Don’t be so naive,’ he said, thirty years her senior and starting to act it. ‘Of course I had to inform your father of what you had got yourself into. It’s him who pays my fees, remember, and it is to him that I answer.’

‘What did you tell him, exactly?’

The lawyer sighed and relaxed a little. ‘I told him the truth – that you are potentially in a great deal of trouble.’

‘Did you tell him about Sansom?’

The man shook his head. ‘I told him what he needed to know for now. You know your father. Details are not what interest him. He’s a busy man.’ Instantly, he regretted this last remark. The admission that a father would be too busy to concern himself with the details of a double murder in his daughter’s apartment was further evidence of the lack of relationship between them.

In an exasperated tone, the lawyer said, ‘I wish you two would sort out your differences. Hasn’t it gone on long enough?’ Eda ignored this remark and reached for her cigarettes. ‘Your father was most concerned, Eda,’ continued the lawyer, trying to recover something. Eda made a face, indicating what she thought of that. ‘He has instructed me to insist that you distance yourself from whatever you have become mixed up in. You are to follow my advice and cooperate fully with the authorities in their investigations.’

The lawyer’s whole demeanour hinted at his lack of optimism that Eda would do as she was told, but he had to carry out his instructions. His instructions, in fact – from a proud, bitterly disappointed and unforgiving father – had merely been that he deal with it. His last speech to Eda, he had completely fabricated to that end.

Eda stared at her plate for a moment longer and deflated. ‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘It’s too dangerous. It’s not my fight and he’s not my responsibility.’

The lawyer brightened. ‘Excellent,’ he said, pleased beyond measure at his success. ‘Then the first thing that we must do is to go to the authorities and tell them the truth about what happened last night. You must tell them everything about this man and how he has used you.’ Eda, subdued, nodded, her eyes still on her plate. ‘Your father still has powerful connections within the establishment. Any difficulties, I’m sure he will be able to assist,’ he added.

‘I’m not hungry,’ she said. ‘Let me go to the bathroom and then we can go to the police.’

‘Of course, of course,’ said the lawyer.

Eda retrieved her bag from the seat next to her and left for the restrooms. As she moved away, she heard the lawyer calling for the bill. She pushed through the double doors that led to the toilets, passed the door to the ladies’ and followed the corridor to a fire escape door that opened out on to the car park. The door was wedged open. A couple of waiters taking a cigarette break eyed her suspiciously as she emerged.

‘My date is boring the hell out of me,’ she said. They smiled back, appreciating her style.

Back in her car, she tried Sansom’s phone again. It rang twice and was answered.

 

*

 

Sansom plugged the charger into the wall socket, annoyed at himself beyond words for allowing the phone to have run out of battery. He inputted the phone’s pin code and the colourful display of his mobile phone sprang to life. Then it began ringing.

‘Yes.’

‘That’s a little more cautious,’ said Smith, apparently holding no resentment for the way that the phone call of the previous evening had been terminated. ‘I’ll get straight to the point: we are more than a little concerned at the way that you’re going about this. Your methods are showing, shall we say, a lack of finesse?’

‘My methods at the moment are purely reactionary, driven by events. I’m improvising. Things became a little out of my control, that’s all.’

‘That’s all,’ repeated Smith. ‘Three men are dead and the target is now fully aware of your presence and intentions. Not to mention that you also have the whole of the Istanbul police force looking for you.’ He sighed, theatrically. ‘We are beginning to wonder if we haven’t made a mistake in recruiting you. Perhaps you’ve just been out of the military way of thinking for too long. Are you going to be a liability for us?’

Sansom’s temper was even when he replied, ‘Surely, you know yourself, as ex-military, that once a soldier, always a soldier. The ball is back with me, so you can stop worrying about whether I’m up to this. Remember, I have a lot more invested in it than you have.’

‘Years of experience, laddie,’ said Smith, ‘have taught me that the only kind of investment that counts for anything in this sort of operation is financial. Emotional is always a hindrance.’

‘Was there anything else?’ said Sansom.

‘Give me an idea of what you propose now. Where are you?’

‘You don’t know?’ said Sansom. He tried Smith out, ‘Istanbul, of course.’

‘Really?’ said Smith. ‘If we are going to assist each other, we are going to have to trust each other, and that will mean a certain amount of honesty. Understand? It might be difficult for us to continue to help otherwise. Think about it – seriously this time.’ Smith terminated the call.

Sansom flopped back on to the bed. He needed to formulate some sort of plan for what Smith had euphemistically referred to as the ‘operation’. The man had been right, of course. He needed to start thinking more like a military man – less heart, more head. He needed to find out when Botha would be due in Bodrum and where he would be likely to moor his yacht. Given the size and outward luxuriousness of the vessel he’d seen tied up at Botha’s Istanbul home-side quay, Sansom doubted that the man would be staying anywhere else but on it.

The phone rang again, disturbing his train of thought. He looked at the display. Eda’s number showed. Mindful of the caller who had last used the number, he answered cautiously.

‘Acer?’

‘Eda.’ He swung his legs off the bed to sit, unable to prevent the pleasure of hearing her voice affecting his own.

‘I wasn’t sure it was you,’ she said.

‘I thought you were someone else, too.’ They shared a small laugh.

‘The family lawyer,’ she said, by way of explanation.

‘What’s happened? Where are you? Are you all right?’

‘Slow down,’ she said.

Sansom heard the angry blasting of a vehicle’s horn somewhere in her background. ‘Are you driving?’

‘Yes. They let me go. They don’t have any evidence to detain me, for now. You were right.’

‘Thank God for that. Have you been home yet?’

‘I’m on my way.’

‘Don’t.’ She didn’t answer him. The sounds of a struggle filled the line. ‘Eda? Eda?’

‘Sorry. I needed two hands for a moment. I’ve parked.’

‘Where are you?’

‘Nowhere particular.’

‘Don’t go home; it’s far too dangerous for you there now. They came to kill me, maybe you too. Who knows what they will do to you if they get hold of you again?’

‘Where are you?’ she said, knowing that he was right.

‘Bodrum.’

‘How on earth did you get there?’

‘Their vehicle. After your lawyer called me with your message last night, and one of his own, I decided to drive through the night. How did you know that Botha is headed for Bodrum?’

‘I remembered that the dead men talked of it. They were less than pleased that they had been sent to deal with you instead of enjoying a cruise in the Aegean.’

Mention of the dead men reminded Sansom of her ordeal of the day before. ‘After all that, how are you?’

‘I’m OK.’

‘You can’t go home,’ he repeated.

‘I know.’

‘Do you have somewhere you can stay? Somewhere you would be completely safe? Somewhere they couldn’t find you?’

‘I can find somewhere.’

‘You mentioned family before.’

She made a noise. ‘Not an option. What about you? What are you doing?’

They discussed his position in Bodrum, the information he would need regarding Botha’s likely itinerary and details of his yacht. Sansom admitted that all he knew was the name of the vessel and a vague idea of what it looked like from his snatched glance. They both knew that he still needed her help and that she would be able to get information for him that he didn’t have a hope of finding out himself.

‘I’ve put you in enough danger already,’ he said. ‘I can’t ask you for anything else.’

‘But it would help?’ she said, thinking that it was also as much her fight now as his. She felt too that she was no longer safe where she was and she had an idea.

‘Yes, it would help.’

‘Give me an hour,’ she said. ‘I’ll go to the paper’s offices. I’ll be able to find out something there.’

‘Thank you. Be careful.’

She ended the call, performed a U-turn to the obvious consternation and displeasure of motorists around her, and headed back into Istanbul.

 

*

 

The first thing Tallis did after checking into his hotel room and turning on the air conditioning to its full extent was to take a cold shower. At his age, level of fitness and body mass, the Istanbul climate was going to be tough.

Since deciding to follow Sansom’s trail to Istanbul he had deliberated over what exactly he would do when he arrived. In no official capacity, he would be completely alone, devoid of all support.

All he knew was the name of the man that Sansom had to come to Istanbul for and the pseudonym that Sansom was travelling under. An Internet search had turned up next to nothing on Botha.

He reckoned that if he found Botha, he would find Sansom. He had settled on two possibilities for pursuing their whereabouts: the official one, the police, or the unofficial one, the press.

The detective was pinning his hopes and his week’s leave on being able to find Sansom if he could find Botha. If Sansom was in Istanbul for Botha then he would have to spend time watching him. In Sansom’s shoes, that’s what Tallis would do. And if Tallis devoted his time to watching for people who were watching for Botha then the chances are that he would sooner or later encounter Sansom, who would not know that anyone was looking for him. It made a hazy sense to the policeman and, for the present, that was enough. And, as he reminded himself, he’d had greater breakthroughs with less going for him.

Despite being a policeman himself, Tallis decided that he would not approach the police. Instead, he would locate the offices of one of the big newspapers in Istanbul, visit them, find someone who spoke English, and simply question them regarding Botha. If he was a high-profile dirty-businessman, he guessed that someone would have taken some interest in him at some time.

It sounded so simple and direct to Tallis that it settled his mind. What, he asked himself, was the worst that could happen? It might cost him the price of a lunch if the press back home were anything to go by, but it wouldn’t involve all the awkward questioning that the same enquiry might bring if made at a police station. He knew how that worked well enough and his chances of getting any information, again, if his home experiences were comparable.

 

*

 

Sansom awoke to the ringing of his mobile on the bedside table. Eda’s voice drifted down the line, lifting his spirits instantly. ‘I have information that you’ll be very interested in,’ she said. ‘I know where he’s going and I know why.’

‘Fantastic,’ said Sansom. ‘Let me find pen and paper. I’ll call you back.’

‘No need.’

‘Why?’

‘You said yourself that Istanbul isn’t safe for me right now and after yesterday I believe you. I think they’ll kill me if they find me. I’m coming to Bodrum. I’ll bring everything I’ve found with me. There’s some interesting information and some pictures of the people who work for him.’

‘You can’t,’ he said. ‘You’ll be in even greater danger here.’

‘I disagree. They won’t even know where I’ll be. I can help you again. You’re as lost there as you were here. I won’t be. I used to spend all my summers in Bodrum. Most of Istanbul does. My family still own summer houses there. Besides, whether you like it or believe it, I’m directly involved now. They came into my home, threatened my life. I have no doubt that they would have killed me along with you.’

‘And what about the police? They won’t allow you to leave Istanbul with two suspicious deaths linked to you.’

‘When I’ve left, I’ll contact them and tell them that I’m in fear for my life. I’ll tell them I’ve been threatened directly again. They’ll have to accept my absence. I’m not running from them. I’m keeping safe until this is over.’

‘They won’t like it.’

‘What is it you English say? They’ll have to hump it?’

Another time, he would have laughed.

 

*

 

Dressed, refreshed, rested and hungry, Tallis decided to patronise the restaurant off the lobby of his hotel. He hoped to goodness that they had air conditioning and a menu that would suit his palate and his pocket. Having stuck his head out of the window, he didn’t relish traipsing around in a humid Istanbul evening in search of food that wouldn’t aggravate his stomach condition. He told himself that first thing in the morning he would make enquiries into the whereabouts of likely newspaper offices with the friendly English-speaking girl on the desk.

Tallis began to perspire immediately he left his room. He sweated in the lift from the fifth floor to the lobby. By the time he reached the hotel restaurant entrance, his shirt was stuck to his back and he was bitterly regretting wearing a jacket and tie. He flopped down gratefully into the booth that the waiter guided him to underneath a ceiling-mounted fan and gulped down the iced water provided for him.

‘I don’t suppose you speak English, do you?’ Tallis asked the young waiter fussing around him.

‘Indeed, sir. I speak very English. I go classes each weekly.’ The waiter beamed proudly down at Tallis, who returned his smile.

‘Good,’ said the policeman, and then in slow clear speech: ‘You look after me and I’ll look after you. OK?’ He rubbed the thumb and middle finger of his raised right hand together – a universal gesture understood immediately by the youth, judging by the way his eyes lit up.

‘Yes, sir.’

‘You can start,’ continued the policeman, ‘by getting me another big jug of this iced water and turning up that fan a bit.’ He pointed upwards. ‘And then come and tell me in English what all this writing says,’ he said, pointing now at the menu.

‘Yes, yes,’ said the waiter, scurrying off.

Tallis loosened his tie, relaxed a little and allowed himself a self-satisfied smile. So far, so good. He sat back, taking in his surroundings and surveying the clientele. A man was sitting a short distance away with a newspaper open in front of him, holding it up as he studied a story within it in the dim lighting. Tallis’s smile faded as he saw the face of Acer Sansom staring blankly back at him.

 

***

 

 

12

Despite Sansom’s warnings and her own awareness of the dangers, Eda chose to risk a quick return to her apartment to collect some things. There were items that she couldn’t do without if she was to leave Istanbul for Bodrum. Despite knowing that Botha’s people would be searching for them, undoubtedly with renewed resolve, Eda managed to convince herself that they wouldn’t strike twice in the same place – not so soon, anyway, and with Botha and his entourage out of the city. She comforted herself that the door-keeper could be relied upon to notice any strange goings on and he would be sure to be more vigilant, as would everyone else in the building, after the previous day’s events. She could even ask him to accompany her up to her flat.

In the falling dusk, she eased her car around the top of the road that led down to her apartment building. In spite of her belief regarding the lack of immediate danger to her there, she felt an ominous foreboding settle on her spirit. She crawled the length of the street. There were no remarkable vehicles parked in the road.

Fearful of the dark underground parking area, she brought her car to a stop opposite her building’s entrance. Looking up at her own windows, her fear was compounded when she thought of what had happened there the day before – how it could have ended and what could still happen to her. Refusing to succumb to her fears, she fought back her misgivings, locked and left the car, crossed the road and entered the complex.

From a gap in the semi-closed shutters of her kitchen window, calm hooded eyes watched her movements. The intruder held his breath as the woman scanned the building, no doubt afraid, deliberating whether to risk coming in, wondering whether she would be safe. He exhaled as she locked and left her car. His face broke into a satisfied smile as she disappeared from view beneath him. His quarry was coming. Mr Botha would be very pleased with him.

 

*

 

When the waiter returned to the Englishman’s table, he feared for a moment that the gentleman might be having some sort of seizure. The man, who only moments ago had been friendly and talkative, now seemed oblivious to his presence. His face had taken on a ghostly appearance and his eyes, wide and staring, were fixed on something in the distance, his mouth hung open awkwardly. The waiter wondered, fleetingly, if he shouldn’t just empty the carafe of iced water over the man’s head to revive him.

To the youth’s great relief, however, the Englishman suddenly came to his senses. His face returned to somewhere near its previous state and he gratefully accepted a glass of the iced water that the youth offered, gulping it down so quickly that some of it escaped his mouth and ran down the front of his shirt.

‘That newspaper,’ said Tallis, finding his voice and pointing across the room, ‘you get for me?’

The waiter, puzzled by this request, said, ‘You read Turkey?’

‘No, no,’ said Tallis. ‘You get it. You read Turkey. You tell me in English. Yes?’

The waiter’s expression registered understanding. ‘Ahhh,’ he said. ‘Yes, yes. I read Turkey, tell all English.’ He cast a look around the dining room, which was filling up. ‘Not now, my friend. Me break nine hour. I read then, yes?’

Tallis looked at his watch. ‘OK, OK. Nine, you tell me paper story. Now, you help me with dinner food, yes?’

‘Yes,’ said the waiter, once more beaming at the thought of the tip that this eccentric gentleman might be willing to give him. How he loved the English.

 

*

 

As she entered her apartment building’s foyer, Eda’s legs weakened a little. She appreciated that some sort of post-traumatic-shock association was at work and she forced herself to rise above it. She was stronger than that; she was her father’s daughter. Her finger hovered over the lift button for a moment before she withdrew it. Instead, she went to the ground-floor flat of the door-keeper and knocked. She waited a few seconds before knocking again, harder. Nothing. At this time of day she would expect him and his wife to be home.

After a moment’s deliberation, she took the lift to her floor. Taking a deep breath, she unlocked her door and strode in, forcing herself to demonstrate a confidence that she didn’t completely feel.

Immediately, she knew something was wrong. It was too cold. The air conditioning had been on. Had the door-keeper simply left it on after he had cleaned up? She listened for the subtle humming of the machine, but there was none. The air conditioner thermostat was broken. It couldn’t turn itself off. It had to be manually operated.

Eda then became faintly aware of the scent of an unwashed body – the fetid, unpleasant smell of body odour. She froze as her mind screamed ‘run.’

From the kitchen stepped a man with a pistol extended in front of him. He looked Turkish and, despite the temperature of the apartment, she could see that he was sweating. Eda thought she had seen him somewhere before.

The man signalled her with a flick of the gun to come in further. She walked unsteadily towards him so that he had to retreat a little to let her pass.

He spoke in their shared mother-tongue. ‘Into the living room.’

With the sound of his voice, she remembered where she knew him from. She turned to face him, empowered by her outrage and by the realisation of his deception. ‘You’re a policeman. You were here yesterday. What the hell are you doing in my flat?’

An unpleasant grin spread across his face. ‘I’m here to find out what yesterday’s fools were sent here for,’ he said. ‘Where is he?’

She glowered at him.

With his free hand the man removed a knife from his pocket. The light caught the polished steel as the blade shot out. Eda felt her remaining energy begin to flow out of her body. ‘You will tell me,’ said the policeman. ‘How much it hurts is up to you.’ He took a step towards her. She found the strength to back away on legs that wavered almost uncontrollably. The man’s grin seemed to widen in step with her increased terror. As he approached her, he allowed himself a glimpse, in his mind’s eye, of the gratitude that Mr Botha would show for this work, the money he could make here.

A coffee table now separated them. He put his boot on it and shoved it across the polished floor, feinted left and advanced right to trap her in the corner of the room. He slipped the gun into his pocket and took the knife in his favoured hand. ‘This is the last time that I will ask you without violence – where is he?’

A barely-audible scuff of shoe on flooring caused the policeman to turn just as the door-keeper brought down a small spade with all the force that his frail old body could muster. The blow struck the man’s shoulder. Although younger and stronger, he buckled, dropping the knife. Eda seized the closest thing to her – a three-foot-long solid wooden candlestick – and, before the policeman could recover his balance, dealt him a blow to the back of his head that sent him sprawling on to the floor, unconscious. Before the door-keeper could reach her, she had swung and landed two more fierce blows to the prostrate body in an outpouring of her fear and anger.

The door-keeper managed to get himself between Eda and the figure that lay bleeding and inert – possibly already dead – the third in two days. She dropped the candlestick and threw her arms around her saviour as the horror of what had just happened and what could have happened heaved out of her in hysterical sobs.

Unable to deal with the situation alone, he settled Eda and went for his wife. Between them they calmed her and brought her back to something like her normal self. All the while the body of the policeman lay dead or unconscious – none of them cared much which – on the floor of the adjacent room. Their priority was Eda.

Now Eda didn’t need to lie to the police about her reasons for fleeing Istanbul. Her life had been threatened, and by one of their own. That was justification enough. Clearly, she was no longer safe there.

Once she had regained enough of her self-control, she packed a bag with what she had returned for. She then telephoned her lawyer and explained exactly what had happened and insisted that he should come immediately to her apartment where she was waiting for him. She spoke earnestly with the door-keeper and his wife, asking them to wait until the lawyer arrived before they called the emergency services. Finally, after once again embracing the man for saving her life, she took her bag and left.

In the basement car park, she removed the cover from her friend’s car, stuffed it in the boot and, activating the electronic shutter of the underground garage, drove off into the Istanbul dusk.

 

*

 

Sansom awoke, fully clothed on the sagging bed, damp with sweat. Although having fallen back to sleep after speaking with Eda, he still felt tired. Despite the one window being wide open there was not a hint of a breeze. The heat and humidity of the Bodrum climate were oppressive. As he lay staring at the far wall gathering his thoughts, a small lizard scuttled across it. He watched it as it dodged from side to side and then disappeared behind the oversized and ancient wardrobe in the corner.

Night’s darkness was still some way off. In an effort to reinvigorate himself, he showered under the meagre trickle of lukewarm water.

Dripping wet, he sat on the bed and called Eda. ‘Have you left yet?’

‘Yes, I’m driving though. I didn’t want to risk air travel or public transport,’ she said.

‘I know the feeling.’ He sensed something in her voice. ‘Is everything all right?’

‘Yes, fine. I’m tired and I’ve got a long way to come, that’s all.’

‘I’m grateful for all your help,’ he said. There was a short silence. ‘Where will you go when you arrive here?’

‘I told you that we have summer houses in Bodrum. I shall go to one of those. I’ll call you when I get there. I hope to arrive by lunchtime tomorrow.’

‘Take care,’ he said.

 

*

 

Sansom dressed in preparation for a walk around the town. As well as being hungry, he would investigate the large marina he had seen on his way into Bodrum. Possibly that was Botha’s destination. He wondered what Eda had meant by ‘summer house’. Probably some kind of holiday apartment like those he had seen that dotted the hillsides on his approach.

Leaving his room, he fixed a barely-visible thread between the door and the jamb. It was a little Bondesque, but if it was good enough for James, it was good enough for him. He took the rear staircase, which opened out on to a cluttered, dingy, narrow passageway, at the end of which he could see throngs of tourists out for a good time – an unbroken stream of humanity flowing towards the sea. As he strode to join them, he prepared himself mentally to become one of them.

 

*

 

Tallis sat back in his booth trying to remember the last time he had eaten such wonderful food and been waited on so attentively. He was finishing his coffee and it was almost nine o’clock. He signalled for the bill, and was pleasantly surprised when it arrived. In preparation for his imminent meeting with Murat – the waiter had introduced himself shortly after the policeman had ordered his meal – he left a decent tip for the lad. Judging from the look on his face, he was not disappointed.

Ten minutes later, the pair sat outside the rear of the hotel on a couple of plastic patio chairs. This was obviously where the kitchen and waiting staff took their breaks. Murat had removed his tie and was hurriedly demolishing a sandwich. With a mixture of sign-language and his pidgin English, he communicated to the DI that they had fifteen minutes.

The newspaper lay on the plastic table in front of them. Tallis indicated the article under the life-like artist’s impression of Sansom, sat back and waited while the youth chewed and studied the text with equal concentration.

‘Why you interest this man?’ said the waiter, after a minute. Tallis smiled patiently. From his wallet he withdrew a fifty-lira note and placed it on the table between them. Tallis tapped his watch, indicating the passing of valuable time. Further explanation was unnecessary; the waiter refocused his mind to the task.

After another minute, he said, ‘Him bad man, sir. It say, he kill man, here, Istanbul.’

‘Is he in prison?’ asked Tallis, trying to keep the surprise out of his voice. Murat frowned his lack of understanding. Tallis pointed to the picture and then puts his hands out to receive handcuffs. ‘Police?’ said Tallis.

The boy shook his head vigorously. ‘No, no. They want her,’ he said.

‘Him,’ clarified Tallis, pointing once again at the drawing of Sansom.

‘Him,’ said Murat smiling. ‘Sorrys, we have not gender in my language. It difficulty.’ He bent to the article again. Tallis’s mind was still racing when Murat spoke again. ‘He not here now,’ he said.

‘How do you know?’ said Tallis, struck by this fresh disappointment, like a physical blow. How could he go from feeling so good to so bad so quickly?

‘It say, dead man not Turk, working for big, very bad man, name Botha. Security.’

‘How do you know’ said Tallis, speaking slowly and pointing to the picture again, ‘he not here now?’

‘My brother.’

Tallis suddenly wondered if this boy in front of him understood anything at all. What the hell could his brother have to do with anything? His look must have transferred a question to the youth.

‘My brother, work boat supply, foods, drinks, stores,’ he explained. ‘He say big man, Botha, go on her, sorry, his, big boat yesterday. Go Bodrum. He,’ he continued, also pointing at the picture of Sansom, ‘want make trouble, Botha. He go Bodrum too, yes?’ And suddenly Tallis felt good again.

‘Makes good sense,’ said Tallis, nodding and smiling once again. ‘Thank you, Murat,’ he said. From his wallet he took another fifty-lira note and handed it over. The boy’s face was in danger of splitting in two. The detective rose to leave.

‘You want him?’ said Murat. The policeman nodded. ‘Why?’

‘Family,’ said Tallis.

The youth’s eyes widened. ‘How you find him in Bodrum? Bodrum big place. Many sea.’ The policeman shrugged. ‘Sit,’ said Murat. ‘I call my brother. He know everything.’

The policeman listened as Murat gabbled away excitedly on his mobile phone. He took a pen from his shirt pocket and began scribbling on the newspaper. He ended the call with what sounded like a volley of abuse.

‘Name of boat, Stella’, said Murat, pointing to where he had mis-spelled it. ‘Brother say he always go Akyarlar. Small place near Bodrum. Has big family house, home for holiday.’

DI Tallis was speechless at his good fortune through the boy’s efforts. He reached again for his wallet to show his appreciation but Murat put his hand on his arm. ‘No, sir,’ he said, shaking his head, a serious expression settling on his young features, ‘for family, no charge.’

Tallis didn’t trust himself to speak. A head poked around the kitchen door and barked at the youth. Murat jumped up, sensed something emotional in the older man, patted him on the shoulder and hurried back inside. The policeman sat for a minute longer, regaining his composure, before tearing off the piece of newspaper and heading back to his room.

As he rode the lift, he allowed himself a smile at the way things turned out sometimes. He’d thought he would maybe find the man he was looking for from a newspaper, but not quite like that.

 

*

 

As he made his way towards the sea, Sansom was struck by the high number of tourists. Listening to their excited exchanges as they headed out for a night on the town, he detected several European languages, some North American voices and a number of British dialects. Street hawkers and shop workers called out phrases and invitations to the passing trade in accomplished predominantly-British accents, like well-trained parrots.

Sansom appreciated the clear advantage that such a seasonal population would be to him. Not only would he blend in better as a foreigner but, if the shop and restaurant signs and menus were anything to go by, English was widely understood here.

He allowed himself to be swept along with the flow of people until he arrived in a pedestrianised area that led out on to the marina. The sight of hundreds of ocean-going vessels lifted his spirits as they had always done. However, the association with the loss of everything that he held dear could never be far away from such a scene and he soon found himself remembering his last wonderful days with his family and then their horrific and needless deaths.

He found himself standing outside a bar advertising Steek & Chips but was equally drawn to the sign that offered happy hour drinks, two for the price of one. For the first time since he had returned to civilisation, he felt the need for what his ex-military friends would have called a good drink. With the only people alive that mattered to him far, far away in distance and time – Botha hundreds of miles out at sea and Eda hundreds of miles away on land – he was as alone as he could be, despite the thousands of fun-seekers milling around him. He went in.

 

*

 

The very friendly and extremely helpful young English-speaking girl at the hotel reception had listened sympathetically to the troubles of the hotel’s guest when he had explained to her his predicament. Despite the lateness of the hour, she had telephoned one of the chain’s sister hotels in Bodrum to make a reservation for him, in fact to transfer his reservation from Istanbul to Bodrum at no charge.

Having confirmed availability and secured his accommodation, she then made phone calls to reserve him a seat on one of the red-eye flights that shuttled regularly between Turkey’s cultural capital and its holiday capital. A little expensive for a forty-five minute flight perhaps, but what did he expect at such late notice. And in any case, it was time that was of most value now, not money.

When Tallis attempted to thank her in the same way that he had thanked Murat she, like Murat, had politely declined. It wasn’t necessary, she said, not where family were involved. She sincerely hoped that he managed to catch up with his son to pay him the surprise visit that he had flown all the way from England for and hadn’t managed in Istanbul.

Finally, she ordered him a taxi to take him to the airport and had his bags carried out to it. Tallis’s good mood was dampened only slightly by the girl’s parting remark that she hoped that he had packed some lighter clothing, as he could expect temperatures in Bodrum to be well in excess of those of Istanbul. He’d deal with that when he got there.

 

***

 

 

13

Eda witnessed the sunrise on the road. With the visual intensity of an atomic explosion, it fractured the horizon as she crested a rise, forcing her to raise a hand to shield her tired eyes. Other than to refuel, she hadn’t interrupted her progress towards the tourist hotspot and a man she had come to think about in a way that she hadn’t thought of a man for a long time. The drive had given her the chance to explore these feelings, which she found both ridiculous and exciting.

It amused her to think that not twenty-four hours before Sansom had also driven this same road. Had he stopped where she had stopped? Seen what she had seen? That broken-down stone building coming up, for example, or the groves of olive trees? What had been on his mind as he drove? Her, at all? She chided herself for her schoolgirl stupidity. Sansom had given no indication of any feelings towards her other than as a confidante and an accomplice.

Inevitably, her thoughts also strayed between what she had done, and fled from, in Istanbul and what she would find, face, do, win or lose in Bodrum. She couldn’t shake off the bizarre idea that she was being inexorably drawn to her destiny. And she was afraid.

Before long the vista opened up before her. As she sometimes had in the years that she had driven to Bodrum, she pulled into a loose gravel pocket at the side of the road and got out of the car.

From her lofty vantage point high up in the hills that embraced the area, she was able to look down at the sprawling panorama of the holiday capital of Turkey. Little enclaves of white boxes, taking advantage of the best geography, were packed so tightly together in places that they might have been one huge solid mass of concrete.

The steep hills that backed these separate little communities demonstrated both the developers’ greed and the sun-seekers’ need for yet more building as newer communities sprang up, patching the arid landscape white like some poorly-designed chess board.

At this time of year Bodrum would be heaving not just with the Turks who could afford to escape the suffocating heat and humidity of the bigger cities but also thousands of holidaymakers of all ages and nationalities.

Any other year, the sight would have filled her with a sense of pleasure and anticipation for the weeks of sea, sun and fun to come. This time, however, despite the warmth of the early morning, all she felt was a dread chill filter through her. She wrapped her arms around herself.

Once, she thought, the place must have looked like paradise from where she stood – before Man’s concrete assault paradoxically began the ruination of the very environment that made him invest in the area. Would it always be only a matter of time and money before the need to develop areas of outstanding natural beauty outstripped Man’s admiration for them? Thank goodness there were still some idyllic pockets of the area where the authorities had elected to cease development. She felt grateful, if a little hypocritical, that her family owned a villa in one of them.

Her gaze took in the superb sweep of the Aegean, glistening in the early morning light, stretching out towards Greek territory; the differing hues of green and blue combined to create the most inviting scene. She tried to make out details of the ships anchored across the bay but was too far away. How long before Botha’s was one of them? she wondered. Was he already here?

The sudden rush of a tourist coach roaring past startled her out of her reverie. She saw the white faces of a fresh batch of visitors pressed up against the windows, staring out eagerly at their home for the next week or two. As the coach disappeared around the bend in a cloud of dust and fumes, she turned back to the view with a sigh and, kicking a stone over the edge, walked back to her car and prepared to follow.

 

*

 

DI Tallis observed the sunrise through the tiny aircraft cabin window from thirty-thousand feet. He shouldn’t have. He should have been tucked up in his hotel bed hours before. However, flight delays, the curse of the airborne traveller, had contrived to keep him and hundreds like him penned up like livestock at market in Istanbul’s second airport for most of the night.

Unlike the majority of his fellow passengers, his body had not managed to succumb to the tiredness that he felt. His mind was alive with what he viewed now as the probability rather than the possibility that he could finally catch up with Sansom. If Sansom had been a needle in a haystack in Istanbul, surely he would be easier to locate in Bodrum. Now he had to hope that he could reach Sansom before Sansom reached Botha.

Tallis felt that locating Botha’s area and his yacht would not be a problem if Murat’s information was good, of course. His over-riding concern was time. He had no idea of the South African’s itinerary or what sort of speeds his craft was capable of. For all the policeman knew, Botha may intend to cruise the Aegean or further afield for a fortnight before arriving at his holiday destination. For Tallis, that scenario would open up a whole set of different problems that he preferred not to think about for the moment. For now, he had his goals: get himself to his hotel, find and get himself to Akyarlar, there to begin his searching.

 

*

 

Acer Sansom saw the sunrise from the shore of the Aegean. He didn’t plan it, it just happened. He’d managed the ‘steek’ and chips and one of his two drinks but was unable to stomach the drunken advances of a tattooed, sun-burnt, overweight Geordie struggling hopelessly against the tide of time and the effects of her obviously-unhealthy lifestyle. Forgoing his free pint, he had slipped away, suddenly and acutely aware of how dangerous a ‘good drink’ could be for him.

He had found Bodrum at night difficult to deal with. Crowds of vocal revellers had spilled from even noisier bars on to the promenade, fuelled by alcoholic concoctions and inflated egos. For the most part, he found it a depressing spectacle. The hedonistic aspirations of these foreigners, whose idea of a good time was to drink and party all night and spend the whole of the next day either in their beds sleeping it off or unconscious, roasting on a sun-lounger, demonstrated little ambition. Still, he thought, it was their lives. He realised with a half smile that he must be getting old to be fostering such opinions. He remembered a time when he had been just as bad.

He had taken a walk around the marina, feeling safe in the belief that Botha would not have arrived yet. And even if he had, Sansom was anonymous in the crowds and the darkness. The hundreds of moored ships impressed upon him how difficult it would be for him to find Botha’s yacht if, indeed, this was where he intended to come.

Criss-crossing the floating walkways at the farthest end of the marina, a place obviously reserved for the larger craft, he came upon a vessel that stopped him in his tracks. Moored beneath the ancient castle walls that had been built to defend Bodrum against half the nationalities that were currently invading it was a tall-rigged ship that could have been a sister to The Rendezvous. The lines of her bow and stern he would know anywhere. The arrangement of the deck was twin-like. He knew from experience that such ships, exact replicas of each other, existed. It wasn’t unusual. He fought against the idea that this could be The Rendezvous. He searched her hull for a name, finding Ocean Gazer emblazoned under the bow.

His head swam with the mixture of images and memories that the vessel conjured vividly in his mind, temporarily disorientating him. Staggering away, he missed his step on the swaying walkway and collided with an elderly couple. He murmured his apologies as he quickened his pace away from them. As he went, he heard the woman lament to her companion how sad it was that people came to Bodrum just to get drunk.

Sansom chose to make his way back to his hotel using the quieter side roads, away from the pavements constantly thronging with people. He stopped at a quiet bar in need of a drink and some anonymous human company. Before he managed to finish his first drink, however, a Turkish folk guitarist had embarked upon his repertoire of melancholy tunes. Another night, he might have borne it. Throwing in the towel on his evening, he had gone back to his room. No one had interfered with his arrangement of cotton on the frame. He showered again and flopped down on to the bed, hoping that sleep and morning would both come soon.

Neither had. He had lain in the heat of the still, stifling night, pockets of quiet punctuated by the calls of the temporarily-happy and the random barking of the street dogs. After some hours of torturous tossing and turning, he rose, dressed quickly, and almost desperately forged out once again into the Bodrum streets.

He made no effort to tag his room this time. Leaving by the back door, he made his way to the only place he knew he could hope for solace – the sea.

There were few about now. Weary revellers making their ways back to their accommodation, arms around each other in shows of practical support as much as out of affection. No one seemed to take any notice of anyone else, subdued and just concerned with finding beds.

At the water, he found a lounger to perch on and then experienced the overwhelming urge to put his feet in the water. It was there, staring out across the bay, at the lights of the gently bobbing craft spread far and wide, that he witnessed the sun poke its head above the horizon and almost instantly he felt invigorated and refreshed, bathed in its early-morning glory.

 

*

 

Even at this early hour of the day, Tallis understood that the young receptionist’s parting words in Istanbul had been portentous. The heat pounded him through his unsuitable clothing. Not being one to go to bed during daylight even if he had missed his allowance of sleep from the previous night, he decided that his best initial course of action would be to do something about his wardrobe. It had to be done at some point and if he left it till later in the day, he wasn’t sure he would survive the climate until then.

He left the air-conditioned breakfast room of his new hotel and headed for the tourist shops in search of inspiration.

 

*

 

Sansom had succumbed to the lure of the Aegean – stripped off his T-shirt, kicked off his shoes and waded in. The feel of the salt-water immersion was a tonic that he couldn’t have imagined. He swam for a long time, thriving in the physical exertion and reviving properties of the sea. As he swam, he was taken back to the time on his island, where being in the ocean had been a part of his daily routine, and realised that he missed it more than he could have said.

Leaving the water, he collected his few belongings and trudged barefoot up the stony beach for a while. Still dripping, he joined the footpath that would take him back towards his lodgings. His mood improved, he allowed himself a smile at an older man walking some way ahead of him. Dressed conservatively in jacket and trousers with leather brogues, he had to be British. He would suffer greatly in the heat of southern Turkey if he didn’t do something about his clothing soon, thought Sansom. As if reading Sansom’s mind, the man disappeared into a clothing shop.

Still wet, Sansom stopped at a little cafe, sitting outside to greedily consume coffee and a pastry. He went back to the hotel, where no one seemed to have stirred, slipped out of his damp clothes and, tired from his exertions, lay down on the bed where sleep finally found him.

 

*

 

Eda arrived at her family’s villa late in the morning. The secluded congregation of whitewashed buildings of which it was part huddled round an idyllic sandy cove distant from the hustle and bustle of the main town. Because of its remoteness, she had stopped to buy a few essentials and food provisions on her way.

Finally passing by the security booth at the entrance to the gated community, she felt the exhaustion of the last twenty-four hours wash over her. She brought the car to a stop outside the villa and rested her head on the steering wheel, spent.

A tapping at the window made her start. The face of Mrs Ergokmen came into focus – a seasoned and weathered veteran of the resort, old when Eda first encountered her decades ago and remarkably still going.

Eda climbed out of the car and they embraced. Eda had been a favourite of the old woman’s among the children of the summer vacationers over the many summers that she had watched her growing up. They spent a few minutes catching up on each other’s lives and then the elderly resident trooped off to her spot on the beach, an invitation to eat and drink together sometime soon offered and gratefully accepted.

Eda unloaded the car, threw open all the shutters and windows to air and brighten the house and, drawn by memories, nature’s pull and the promise of some much-needed hydrotherapy, changed into swimwear and headed to the sea.

 

*

 

As Tallis sat at the pavement cafe table sipping his chilled lemonade and enjoying the comfort afforded by his newly-purchased clothes, he pondered his next move.

From behind his new fake designer sunglasses, he studied the population of this holiday resort as it went about its business and he marvelled at the diversity of humanity on display, so colourful and contented-looking. Not like the greyness and general depression of home. He returned his attention to the map of the area he’d picked up, drumming his fingers on the table as he deliberated.

His mind made up, he dipped into his new faux-leather bum-bag and sprinkled a few coins across the bill. Folding the map, he stood and took advantage of a nearby window to admire his new look – floppy wide-brimmed hat, loose-fitting Hawaiian shirt, generously-tailored gentleman’s shorts and airy Velcro-secured sandals over well-hoisted white sports socks. He liked what he saw and, although the sensation surprised him, he felt comfortable. He also knew that he no longer stuck out like a sore thumb.

On the advice of yet another English-speaking, friendly, young and attractive hotel receptionist – where did they all come from, he wondered? – he headed towards where he believed the local minibus park would be. Here, she had told him, he should simply point to where he wanted to go to on his map and the men who worked there would direct him towards the right minibus. Simple.

Within thirty minutes, he was moving along the Turkish coast, thankfully with a seat next to an open window that allowed a glorious breeze to rake his face as he drank in the scenery. And he began to realise why people would feel happy here.

 

*

 

Refreshed and invigorated by her swim, Eda stood in the kitchen of her home smoking as coffee brewed. Something had happened to her in the short while since she had arrived. Whether it was the wealth of good memories revived or simply the peaceful environment that she was now in, she couldn’t say. Perhaps it was something of both and more that she hadn’t recognised yet. Whatever was responsible, her perspective on dealing with the events of the past few days had shifted. She felt less murderous herself, less desiring for physical vigilante-style retribution. She experienced a calming down and the inevitable voice of reason emerging to counteract reckless and dangerous intentions.

She remembered that only four days ago she had met Sansom and made it clear to him that she wanted no part of some wild killing spree – and yet now, here she was, possibly a killer herself and contemplating all sorts of further acts of violence. Reason had to prevail.

Underlying these feelings were others that she was increasingly struggling to suppress. She felt something for this stranger. She could barely explain it to herself other than to accept that some things and feelings one just couldn’t help or deny. She didn’t even know what it was about the man that attracted her. Admittedly, he was good looking in an underweight sort of way. Was it his heart-breaking story that she was attracted to? Or his ruthless determination for revenge to the exclusion of all else, including his own safety and liberty? She was conscious that she must guard against her feelings.

She reached for her phone. The voicemail icon flashed at her. Checking her missed calls, she saw only her lawyer’s details. She left it unanswered. She had no wish to confuse herself further. If she was picked up by police, she would plead fear and ignorance. If she responded to messages it might undermine her position.

 

*

 

Sansom answered Eda’s call on the fourth ring, unable to keep the sleep from his voice.

‘Did I wake you?’ she said, surprised.

‘No, I was just dozing. It’s been a long night. How are you? Are you here?’

‘I’m in Bodrum. Is everything all right?

‘Fine. Really. You must be exhausted. The drive took it out of me.’

‘A swim, some coffee and a smoke – it’s like it never happened.’

‘You’ve swum?’ he laughed. ‘Me too.’

She returned his laughter and tried to ignore the feelings in her stomach.

‘You brought the information?’ he said.

Her eyes flitted to the envelope on the counter, knowing that its contents would take proceedings to a new level, certainly an escalation of the violence, possibly the end, for better or worse, of this madness. How easy it would be to claim that she’d forgotten it, lost it, had it stolen. But what would that achieve? Only delay. He’d expect her to be able to obtain copies easily enough and if she couldn’t, wouldn’t, would it stop him? She doubted it.

‘Eda?’

‘Sorry, yes, I have it.’

‘Good. Thank you. When shall we meet?’

She checked her watch. ‘I could pick you up in a couple of hours.’

‘Are you sure that you don’t want some rest first?’

‘I’ll be fine,’ she said. ‘Can you get yourself to the Dolmuș Otopark near the town centre? Just ask for directions. I’ll be there in two hours.’

‘No problem. I’ll see you there.’

She closed her handset and slid another cigarette out of the pack.

 

***

 

 

14

The minibus sped away in a cloud of dust, leaving Tallis isolated and alone at the side of the narrow, poorly-maintained highway. From his elevated position he enjoyed a glorious view of the Aegean spread out before him with many islands dotted about within it. He found the view beguiling.

Apart from the view, there seemed little else pleasing about his destination. His surroundings consisted of crudely-sectioned plots of arid land in various stages of neglect or development. Some concrete skeletons were built, waiting in limbo for further investment and the next stage of their construction, while others were just patches of brown, parched grass strewn with builders’ spoil and other rubbish. This was not what he had been expecting and he was disappointed.

The heat beat down upon his floppy hat. He emptied the last of his bottle of water before tossing it on to a nearby overflowing rubbish skip. Looking both ways with greater caution than he might usually have exercised – he had no wish to be flattened by some fourteen-year-old on a scooter in the middle of nowhere – he crossed the road for a better view. What he saw brought a smile to his face. Below him, tucked out of sight of the road, nestled the real Akyarlar. From his vantage point he made out dozens of whitewashed villas stepped up behind each other and connected by a maze of shaded streets around a small, pretty bay protected by the elevated land where he stood.

He could see that the main road that separated the beach and the Aegean from the homes was also the centre of the commercial enterprises. Shops, cafes and restaurants lined up shoulder to shoulder. The little bay had several craft anchored in it, including a few larger yachts. He couldn’t make out any detail of the yachts, let alone their names. He resolved that when he returned to Bodrum town he would invest in a good pair of binoculars. Remaining optimistic about the accuracy of Murat’s information and logic because he had to, he stepped out to begin his descent of the only road that appeared to connect Akyarlar with the outside world. His chief concern as he did so was whether he would survive the stroll and if not what would do for him first – heatstroke, dehydration, heart attack or a teenage scooter pilot.

 

*

 

Any anxieties that Eda and Sansom might have felt regarding their impending reunion were dispelled by circumstance. She spotted him waiting in the shade of a tree, giving a good impression of being just another tourist waiting for a bus. As she pulled up next to him a coach full of newly-arrived tourists rounded the corner behind her. In typical Turkish fashion, the coach driver indicated his impatience at having to wait for the ten seconds that it would take Sansom to get into the car by leaning on his horn. Eda threw a hand gesture and a couple of words out of her open window and they sped away out of the car park.

Slowly, they threaded their way out of the busy town and were soon making better speed on less congested roads. An irritating nervousness continued to grip Eda despite her best efforts to shake it. They made their small talk as she drove, and to any unknowing observer they could have passed for old friends who had just met up having not seen each other in a long time.

‘So,’ said Sansom, when it was clear that they were driving with a purpose, ‘where are we going?’

She looked across at him from behind her big sunglasses. She desperately wanted to plead with him to forget it, to listen to her, to let her convince him that he shouldn’t lose his life or his liberty, as he inevitably would, on this path of self-destruction. What would it achieve? Would his dead wife really want this for him?

In the end, she simply said, ‘Akyarlar. It’s a little village on the Bodrum peninsula. It’s where Botha is heading.’

Sansom nodded his understanding and, as though it had been whipped out of the open window like a discarded sweet wrapper, the atmosphere of ease and warmth disappeared to be replaced by something more tense and oppressive.

Resigned to it now, Eda reached into the back seat and freed a large manila envelope from beneath her bag. She passed it across to Sansom and for a brief moment their skin touched. Something like an electric charge pulsed through her entire body, causing the hairs on her arms to stand up. As she fixed her gaze on the road ahead, she was aware of Sansom studying her. He had made no attempt to open the package. Could he be waiting for her to ask him not to? Confused by her own thoughts, she said nothing and feigned ignorance of his staring until, with an audible sigh, he broke the seal and removed the contents. Pandora’s box was open. She pressed her foot on the accelerator and, in silence, they advanced on the remote village of Akyarlar, Sansom temporarily lost to her in the contents of the envelope.

 

*

 

A few minutes later, Sansom said, ‘And you’re sure there’s no chance that he’ll be in Akyarlar yet?’

‘As sure as I can be without knowing it. In any case, Akyarlar is reached by a road that drops steeply down to the sea. We can stop at the top and see if there is anything anchored in the bay resembling the photograph of his yacht. If there is, we can decide what to do then.’

He nodded his agreement, put the material back into the envelope and started admiring the view. ‘It’s a beautiful part of the world,’ he said. ‘A little arid, perhaps, but the sea is wonderful. You said that you’ve been coming here since you were a child?’

‘My parents have a villa in one of the smaller bays further round the coast. They don’t use it much any more, hardly ever in fact. I’m sure they just keep it on in case I ever want to get away from Istanbul.’

‘How often is that?’

‘About once a year, usually in the summer.’

‘I’m not surprised,’ he said. ‘If I had access to a place on this coast, I’d spend all of my summer down here.’

‘It can be just as affecting during the winter too,’ she said. ‘Colder, of course, but the sea is as beautiful when it’s angry as when it’s like this.’

‘You’re very lucky,’ he said.

‘Come and have a look. When we’ve finished here, I mean, today, come and enjoy the peace of the place for a while.’

‘I’d like that very much. Thank you.’

Again they shared a smile. She determined then that she would find time to confront him with her views before things went much further.

They left the main highway for a half-made-up road that twisted and turned through ups and downs; sometimes through bare landscape and sometimes environments dense with spindly trees. She drove at a speed that discouraged conversation on roads that suddenly dropped away tens of feet to either side. Sansom found himself gripping the seat and using his legs to brace himself.

After a few largely-uninteresting miles, they rounded a corner that opened up a breathtaking view of the sea with the island of Kos rising out of the haze in the distance. Eda slowed the car to a stop at the roadside. They got out and stood looking down on to the bay of Akyarlar. Even at their distance, they could see that there was no yacht resembling the photograph of Botha’s anchored amongst the varied flotilla and so, gratefully retreating out of the heat back into the car with its air conditioning, they set their course to explore the little settlement.

During the steep descent to the bay they passed a garishly-dressed tourist ambling along under his floppy hat in the midday heat. Something about the man’s gait reminded Sansom of someone he had seen recently.

‘Must be English,’ he said.

‘Why do you say that?’

‘Don’t you know? Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.’

 

*

 

Some forty minutes after embarking on his hike down the hill to the sea, DI Tallis’s shirt was soaked with perspiration and his feet were blistered. Would he never learn to wear-in new footwear, even sandals, before going trekking in them? His socks were showing spots of blood at the heels and he was generally filthy from the dust he’d kicked up. He trudged into the main street of the quiet little resort. It was still anyone’s bet whether he would survive the day.

Top of his list of priorities was rehydration. A litre of water purchased at a little store put him on his way to achieving this. Second was his overwhelming desire to get his poor feet into the sea that had both beckoned and teased him from afar for the best part of the last hour.

He found some shelter from the sun under a concrete projection and, removing his shoes and socks to inspect the damage, gently eased his feet into the refreshing water. The initial relief bordered on ecstasy. Even the smarting of the salt water in his broken and raw skin couldn’t spoil it for him. Leaning back against the sea defence, he savoured the therapy of the lapping waves and drank thirstily from the bottle, believing that heaven must be something similar.

Somewhat rested and refreshed, Tallis heaved himself up. When all this was over, he vowed, he would do something about his lifestyle, his fitness and his ambition. It was time to snap out of his post-annus-horribilis outlook and look to the future.

He collected his sandals and socks and – favouring the cool shallows of the sea, despite the sharp little stones, over the heat of the sand – began to make his way towards the eateries on the seafront. His thirst was only mildly slaked and now, he realised, he had an appetite to match. He would be in a far better frame of mind to think and observe with a full stomach and a comfortable seat in the shade.

 

*

 

Having driven the length of the main street only to find it to be a dead end, the couple left the vehicle in the shade offered by a group of trees and walked along the seafront in search of refreshment. Despite the time of season, the place was not heaving with the tourists and holidaymakers Sansom would have expected. Although, when Eda reminded him of its remoteness, its access issues and the fact that this was an area with homes owned predominantly by an affluent Turkish population who preferred to keep it that way, the whole picture began to make sense. In fact, as Sansom pointed out to Eda, as they sat in the welcome shade of an umbrella enjoying iced drinks, the only thing that seemed out of place here was the man they had passed on their way into the settlement who was now making his way in their direction, evidently enjoying having his feet in the water.

 

*

 

With only sustenance and shade on his mind, Tallis splashed along the shoreline, looking up every now and then to inspect an establishment and assess its suitability to his needs and his pocket. It was as he passed an expensive-looking restaurant that he noticed the couple among the clientele seated outside the establishment next door. They were staring in his direction. Was it just that he had Sansom in his sub-conscious? Was it low blood-sugar levels or heatstroke inducing hallucinations? He found himself hesitate, his whole body betraying recognition and nothing he could do about it. Sitting with a Turkish-looking woman, he would swear was Acer Sansom, the man he had travelled fifteen-hundred miles to find. The hair was a different colour and so he couldn’t be sure. And then he saw something akin to panic on the man’s face and he knew.

 

*

 

Eda turned to smile at the man’s progress as he picked his was along the stony shoreline. Her smile lost something of its amusement as she noticed him look up and over in their direction, hesitate in mid stride and then change direction, inject some purpose into his step and head straight for them.

Sansom’s face assumed a puzzled look at the man’s purposeful diversion. With a sense of mounting apprehension that he couldn’t explain, only react to, he understood that something was about to happen.

Perhaps thirty yards separated Sansom and Eda from the stranger wading through the shallows when the stranger’s expression suddenly changed. He faltered in his stride and removed his sunglasses. Sansom knew that he had been recognised. Without a weapon, he could think of doing nothing but running. He seized Eda’s forearm to indicate that they should leave quickly. He noticed that her face seemed to express a similar concern at the stranger’s obvious attentions. The man altered his course, left the sea and began striding towards them. Sansom was already standing, trying to lift Eda to her feet, but she appeared mesmerised into a state of inaction by the advancing figure.

The distance between them narrowed to less than ten yards.

‘Eda, get up,’ hissed Sansom.

She grabbed at her bag. And then a strange thing happened. The man walking towards them dropped the sandals and socks that he was carrying and raised both his hands in front of his chest, palms outwards – a universally unthreatening and appealing gesture. His face then broke into a smile. The whole effect was disarming and further confusing. And all the while he edged closer.

A hush descended on the few surrounding tables that were occupied. And then the man spoke in English: ‘Please, Acer. Just one minute. Give me just one minute.’

 

***

 

 

15

The stranger stopped ten feet from them. He and Sansom stood facing one another. Eda sat still, as if paralysed. The people at the tables around them seemed unable to mind their own business.

‘Who are you?’ said Sansom.

‘A friend,’ said Tallis, his hands still in front of him.

‘I said, who are you?’

‘Please. I just want one minute of your time. If you don’t like what I have to say, I’ll walk away.’

‘Tell me who you are or we’re leaving now.’

The stranger took a deep breath, partly because of the importance of what he was going to say next but mostly to steady himself against his emotions for what he must reveal and remember. He forced another smile. ‘I’m your friend but you don’t know it, yet. I’m also a Detective Inspector with the Hampshire County Constabulary, but above all that I’m the father of Jenny Tallis. You may remember her from the crew of The Rendezvous.’ As that hit home and sank in, Tallis repeated his plea: ‘Now, please, give me one minute?’

Sansom was visibly stunned. Each of the last two ways that the man opposite defined himself was like a physical blow. He stared at Tallis for a long moment, deliberating. And as he did so, he saw that the man’s eyes were full of tears, one of which escaped and ran down his cheek, then another. Tallis made no attempt to wipe them away. He stood perfectly still, as though he had stumbled across a rare bird and didn’t want to startle it into flight with his movement.

Sansom became aware of the quiet around him and the unwanted attention that the spectacle was bringing them. ‘Sit down,’ he said.

Only then did the man remove a handkerchief from his pocket and dab at his face. The noise of people lunching gradually resumed.

‘I’m sorry,’ said the stranger, with a little self-conscious laugh. ‘I can’t help myself. It’s Jenny, do you see? She was everything to me.’

Ignoring his most heartbreaking confession, Sansom said, ‘Can you prove who you say you are? Now?’

The detective unzipped his bum-bag and removed firstly his warrant card and then a laminated photograph that he had carried around with him specifically for this moment. If he had been in Sansom’s shoes, he would have done the same thing: insisted on some proof of who he claimed to be, especially the relationship with the crew member of The Rendezvous.

Sansom opened the identification, looked briefly at it and handed it back. He then picked up the photograph. Staring back at him was a slightly younger, thinner version of the man before him with Jenny Tallis in her graduation gown and mortar board, arms around each other. Both were smiling broadly.

Sansom had come to know Jenny Tallis well during their time together on The Rendezvous. She was on a gap year after university and they shared a passion for the sea. She was working as part of the small crew from which, she had once confided in him, she hoped to go on to bigger craft and bigger things, contrary to what her family expected her to do. She was a popular crew member – friendly, good-hearted and helpful. Sansom remembered that on more than one occasion she had minded his baby daughter while he and his wife had dived over the side for morning swims.

Carefully, he pushed the photograph back to the bereaved father. When he spoke again, his tone had lost its guarded hostility. ‘I’m truly sorry for your loss,’ he said. ‘Jenny was a wonderful girl. Everyone loved her.’

‘Thank you,’ said the DI, a little of his composure regained.

‘Would one of you care to let me in on this?’ said Eda, bewilderment clouding her features.

‘Detective Inspector Tallis’s daughter was a crew member on the ship on which my family and everyone else apart from me were murdered.’

Eda looked at the sweating Englishman sitting across from her and sympathy flooded through her. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she said.

Sansom’s thoughts were walking a different line. ‘How did you know that we would be here? I mean, did you? Were you looking for us or is this some completely random occurrence?’

‘It’s a long story,’ said Tallis. ‘And I want to share it with you, but would you mind very much if I ordered a drink and something to eat first? I think there’s a real chance that I might pass out soon if I don’t. I’ve had a particularly exhausting morning and I’m not in the best physical shape, as you can see.’

Eda and Sansom both remembered the man struggling down the hill in the heat and could see that he was probably telling the truth. Iced drinks were re-ordered and quickly consumed.

Tallis ordered sandwiches and while they waited for them to come, he began to explain his presence there. ‘Firstly, it’s no accident that I’ve found you. I’ve been looking for you. I’ve taken leave from my job to come to Turkey to find you.’

‘But how did you find me? I didn’t even know I was going to come here today until this morning.’

The DI smiled at him. ‘Don’t forget, I’m a detective. Finding people is part of my job. And to be honest, son, you haven’t made it that difficult and I’ve had some luck.’

The food arrived and while he ate Tallis detailed the history of his involvement with the case. He described the first time he had set eyes on Sansom as a murder suspect, unconscious in a hospital ward, and the subsequent revelation that he was a member of the group aboard the vessel his daughter had been sailing on when she vanished.

He spoke of Sansom’s night-time abduction by the military, through to his meeting with the Army Captain at the motorway services and the subsequent gift of the sensitive information from him that had originally come from Sansom himself.

He then described his own police work and moments of good fortune that had brought him to the beach that day. He admitted that never in his wildest imaginings would he have expected to encounter Sansom on his first visit to the place. That was indeed great and good fortune.

Fantastic though the story was, of greatest immediate concern to both Eda and Sansom was the fact that such an apparently good likeness of Sansom had been published in a national newspaper. It meant that he would need to guard against recognition, which would make his movements that much more awkward and dangerous.

‘But where would they have got it from? said Sansom.

‘Botha or someone working for him,’ said Eda. ‘I’ve tried to tell you how much influence that man has. You’ve been seen by them on CCTV and in the flesh. It wouldn’t take much for them to get someone to ‘help the police with their enquiries’. One of the police that he has in his pocket could easily have arranged it.’

As they ate and drank, they exchanged questions and answers. Eventually, the time came for Tallis to make the pitch he had come for; a pitch he felt he would get only one opportunity to make.

‘As you may have guessed,’ he said, ‘I’m not in Turkey in any official capacity. To all concerned authorities, I’m simply a tourist taking a well-earned holiday. The real reason I’m here, as I’ve explained, is to find you. Because I want your help.’

He locked eyes with Sansom to emphasise the importance of what he was about to say. ‘I’m here for the truth but the truth isn’t all here. Only part of it is here. Someone is responsible for the death of my little girl, your family and those other poor devils on that boat, and I intend to get justice for them and those they left behind.’

He smiled at Sansom then. ‘Not your kind of justice. I want legal justice. I understand why you would want what you seem to want and, believe me, in some of my darker moments I could happily strangle those responsible with my bare hands. But I’m a copper through and through. Playing vigilante has never seriously appealed to me and I’ve seen the mess that it’s got some good people into. Far better in my opinion to let the law do what it’s there to do. Besides, there’s a bigger picture here that I have a feeling you know nothing about.

‘I have three reasons for coming to find you,’ he continued. ‘One is that I would like to know, directly from you, about the last days of my daughter’s life and what happened at the end out there.

‘I have the tapes that you made with Captain Harris. As I’ve said, he gave me everything, but in my experience there’s nothing like hearing it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Clearly, Harris suspected that there was something very fishy in all this, in the authority’s treatment of you, especially with Bishop’s involvement. He’s broken the bloody Official Secrets Act, after all.

‘Harris believed that you deserved better from the service as one of their own. I wonder if his own involvement wasn’t the cause of his posting well away from where he could be a problem for them. But maybe that’s just the conspiracy theorist in me.

‘The second reason I’m here is to find evidence that could lead to a prosecution of those responsible for these crimes. Like I said, I want proper justice. There’s something very wrong here that involves some very elevated people up to their necks. Without proper evidence and testimony, I’d have no chance of holding them accountable.

‘Which leads me on to the third reason I’m here – I want you to agree to come back to England to testify as a main witness.’

Up to this point, Sansom had listened respectfully to the policeman, secure in the knowledge that he had no jurisdiction here, that he was merely an interested, involved third party, who, as the father of a murdered girl, deserved a hearing. He owed him that at least. However, when Tallis broached this last point he sat up, making to argue with him.

‘Please,’ said Tallis, once again his hands in front of him, palms out, ‘let me finish what I have to say before you respond. You don’t know it all, yet. If I’m right, this whole business is much more important and much bigger than you can imagine.’

Sansom relaxed a little, intrigued.

‘I’m going to ask you to be honest with me about something,’ Tallis continued. I want you to think very carefully. I also want you to know that whatever we discuss here today, and any upshot of it, I have no intention of making trouble for you with the authorities in Turkey.’

He allowed himself a little chuckle, ‘I might ask you for a lift back up the hill to the bus stop when we’re done here. But I’ll ask nothing more from you if you make it clear that’s what you want. If you want nothing more to do with me when we leave here, I’ll respect that. I give you my word.’

‘Go on,’ said Sansom.

‘I want you to cast your mind back to the night you were spirited away from Headley Court. Will you tell me exactly what happened between when you left the base and checking into the hotel at the airport?’

‘Why?’ said Sansom. ‘What’s so important about it? I wrote down everything for Harris and if he passed it all on to you, then you know as much as I can tell you. There’s nothing more to add.’

Tallis smiled at him. ‘Put it down to me being a copper. Something happened that night and I need to know how you were involved. Tell me your version of the evening and I’ll tell you mine. Humour me.’

Sansom thought, recollected, got events straight in his mind. Tallis studied him closely. Eda was relegated to the sidelines, an enthralled witness to this most bizarre of meetings. The atmosphere around them had returned to what it had been before the man had wandered out of the sea.

‘After we left the base, we drove to a London address. Number fourteen somewhere. I didn’t catch the street name. I was met by a man who calls himself Smith. Bishop was waiting inside for me.

‘He just wanted to talk to me, thank me for being with them, leave me in no doubt that there would be, shall we say, certain consequences if I had a change of heart and sought to make trouble for him in any way. He told me that I wouldn’t see or hear from him again and that I would be contacted by Smith when they needed me.

‘I have a phone they gave me,’ he said, in response to Tallis’s questioning look. ‘Contact was also to be one way. After that, I went upstairs to change into clothes they’d brought for me. Bishop left when I was upstairs. I’ve not seen or heard from him since. Smith drove me to a cafe, where he briefed me and provided me with documents that I’d need. He then drove me to the hotel and left me there. Alone.’

‘That’s all?’

‘Yes. That’s everything.’

‘Did it not strike you as odd that they took you there just for that? Couldn’t it all have been done in the back of a car?’

‘I suppose it could, but I didn’t have much control over the situation.’

‘There was no one else present?’

‘Apart from the driver who took me there, no one that I saw. Do you want to tell me what this is all about now?’

‘Last question: have you ever heard of a journalist called Phillip Hatcher?’ The policeman, experienced through years of practice at spotting an untruth, studied Sansom’s face intently.

Maintaining eye contact with his interrogator, Sansom shook his head. ‘No.’

‘They fitted you up, son,’ said the DI, with a mixture of seriousness and sadness.

The alarm bells started to ring. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I don’t know what they promised you, but the official Army line for now is that you died in their care as a result of complications after travel.’ Sansom nodded.

‘However, that doesn’t tally with your apparent appearance, after your ‘death’, at the home address of the journalist I mentioned, who was found with his throat slit – sorry miss – dead on his kitchen floor soon after your visit.

‘A glass with your prints on was found at the scene, as was a Headley Court hospital gown. Your prints are all over the place. Now do you see why they got you there? I have no doubt that when it suits them they’ll own up to losing you and then, despite what they promised you, you’ll be wanted by the Army for your escape from Headley Court and for any other military violation that they care to throw at you; wanted for questioning by the Hampshire Constabulary in connection with the death of Harper, and also wanted by the Met for the murder of the journalist. I also suspect that all that might be used to validate a shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy where you’re concerned.’

For several unpleasant moments nobody spoke. Eda and Sansom digested and computed this latest bombshell. Tallis gave them time to do so. Some colour drained from Sansom’s tanned features, giving him a wan look. It was Eda who broke the silence, her journalistic mind working. ‘Why?’

Sansom looked at her. ‘I didn’t do it. I know nothing about it.’

‘I know you didn’t,’ said Tallis.

‘That’s not what I meant,’ said Eda. ‘I meant why would they do that – implicate you in a murder?’

‘He makes a convenient scapegoat for them,’ said Tallis. ‘Escaped from a military hospital, connections with another recent killing, AWOL from the Army for a year, they’ve probably tagged you as some sort of mental patient. It’s a kind of insurance for them if you decide to change your mind and start talking.

‘The point is that they’ve used you to cover up their own dirty business. A former Minister is complicit in the murder; he has to be. And now they have you over here as their assassin doing more of their dirty work. Now do you see what I mean about a bigger picture?’

 

*

 

Tallis found himself offered more than just a ride up the steep incline to the bus stop. An hour later the three of them were safely secluded in Eda’s family villa, suggested by Eda as the only place away from prying eyes and ears, to pursue the topic that had brought them together.

Sansom, subdued on the ride back, remained thoughtful and reticent, distant even. The doubts raised over what he had been led to believe and the way that he had been set up obviously weighed heavily on his mind. As the men sat, Eda prepared some refreshments.

‘Have I really been that stupid?’ said the soldier, looking tired.

‘We don’t know yet,’ said Tallis. ‘Let’s not go jumping the gun. What evidence do you have that this man Botha was involved in the incident with The Rendezvous?’

The soldier met his eye and shook his head. ‘Apart from the word of Bishop, some paperwork that could easily have been faked, and the fact that the men who attacked us were certainly South African, none. So that’s hardly any evidence at all, is it?’

‘Well,’ said Tallis, trying to inject some positivity into the situation, ‘just because it comes from the mouth of a politician, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it has no element of truth. But even if it does, it’s no excuse for the behaviour of a former government Minister, still an influential MP, to go sanctioning and organising an assassination.’

‘There’ll be no proving his involvement,’ said Sansom.

‘He visited you at Headley Court. Perhaps there would be a record of it.’

‘If he could organise my escape from there, a false passport and travel to a foreign country, I’m sure he could erase any records of an unofficial visit.’

‘True, but we do have another witness: Harris. Look, I think the best thing we can do, if you agree, is to piece together exactly what we have, from the beginning. And then we need to work out what we can do next.’

‘You’re assuming that I’m not going to continue with this,’ said Sansom.

‘I hope you’re not. I hope I can reason you out of it. You’ll only get yourself killed or imprisoned – and what would that achieve? You have to see how things are different at least because of Bishop’s involvement in the murder of the journalist.’

‘How do you know that he was? What evidence do you have? How do you know that he hasn’t been set up too?’

The DI smiled. ‘Good, now you’re thinking more analytically. I don’t, of course, but he was there on the night in question and he hasn’t made that fact apparent to the investigating authorities in a bid to assist with their enquiries. He couldn’t possibly be unaware of the man’s death; it was all over the news. And then taking into consideration what he has organised for you, I’d say that it’s a pretty good bet that he’s as guilty as sin of something.

‘There is something else. I did some checking into the background of the dead journalist. Seems that he had a reputation for high-profile exposés. Specialised in the investigative undercover stuff. It’s possible that he may have been working on something that involved Bishop.’

‘And so Bishop had him killed? While he was in the house? It doesn’t sound very smart to me, or very likely. My only concern is who murdered my family. If Botha is involved, as Bishop says he is, I intend to continue. Know that. I don’t care whether Bishop thinks that he’s using me, or what else he’s into. As far as I’m concerned, if his sponsorship gets me access to the people responsible for that atrocity then I don’t care what his motives are. That’s all there is for me.’

‘And what if he turns out to be involved in it as well?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘What I say. What if Bishop is somehow involved in what went on?’

‘How could he be? Besides, you’re forgetting that his own son was murdered on that trip.’

‘Not strictly true,’ said Tallis. ‘It was a boy from his wife’s first marriage and apparently not someone with whom he had a particularly, shall we say, close relationship. I did some checking on that.’

‘That’s not the way he came across at Headley.’

‘He wouldn’t, would he? It was his trump card – his believability factor. He’s a politician.’

‘It worked.’

‘Look,’ said Tallis, ‘will you agree with me that in the light of the doubt cast over this whole business you should be sure of what you’re doing and that you’re doing it to the right people before you go charging in?’

‘I’m afraid it’s a little late for that, remember? They’ve made me their business as much as I’ve made them mine. Three of them are dead because of me.’

‘Three?’ said Tallis. ‘The newspaper said one.’

‘There was a later incident,’ said Sansom.

‘It might be four,’ said Eda, settling the tray of drinks between them. The men stared up at her. Looking at Sansom, she said, ‘I went back to the flat to get some things. I know you advised against it. There was a man in there. I recognised him as a policeman who had been in my home the previous evening. He threatened me with a knife to try to make me tell him where you were.’

‘You killed him?’ said Sansom.

‘I think so. I didn’t stop to check. I honestly thought he might kill me. The door-keeper saved me. There was a struggle. I lost control and hit him with something hard.’

For a minute, quiet descended upon the terrace.

Tallis broke the silence. ‘So both of you are now being sought by the police. Is here safe for you?’ he said to Eda.

‘As safe as anywhere, I suppose. Besides, I have nowhere else to go.’

‘Where are you staying?’ Tallis asked Sansom.

‘A cheap hotel in Bodrum.’

‘Somewhere as busy as Bodrum might not be the best place for you to be with that mugshot floating about on the front of the newspapers.’

‘You can stay here,’ said Eda, ‘if you want to. To be honest, I think I’d be glad of the company.’

‘It would make sense to get you somewhere more remote,’ said Tallis, ‘away from people who might recognise you, make a connection.’ Sansom nodded and smiled his thanks to Eda.

‘Will you agree to keep a low profile until we can find out more? Please? I hear you when you say you have your objectives but I still have mine and one of them is keeping you alive and at liberty to provide testimony against those we both want to see punished.’

‘And how will you do that?’ said Sansom.

‘I don’t know yet. But I think a good start would be to put together all we have, all we know.’

Sansom considered the policeman’s request. He said, ‘I’ll give you until Botha arrives in Bodrum. And then I’m going to ask him myself.’

 

***

 

 

16

Knowledge is power, Tallis gently reminded them as they spent the rest of the afternoon doing as he had suggested: piecing together what they had, what they knew. They discussed the chronological unfolding of events, the encounters, the contacts and the killings. They explored the opportunities afforded them by the phone that Sansom had acquired. Tallis used Eda’s Internet-enabled laptop to show them an online article detailing the murder of the journalist. Sansom read it, a grim expression shrouding his features.

When it came to Sansom reliving the events on The Rendezvous, Eda left the two men alone, not wishing to intrude on such shared grief. Taking the laptop into another room, she began some research of her own.

By early evening, they were all physically tired and emotionally drained. But the afternoon had brought them closer together in both sense of purpose and relationship. However, while the exercise provided them with the overview that Tallis sought it also raised more questions than it answered.

Tallis had to hope that Sansom had been further persuaded to give more time to seeking out the truth and the reasons that lay hidden behind the events surrounding the slaughter on The Rendezvous.

He also hoped still that this man, who seemed unwaveringly committed to his possibly-misguided course of retribution, which would inevitably only lead to his own tragedy – although he seemed genuinely not to care – could yet be convinced of the better path of legal justice.

He sensed in Eda an ally to his cause. He also knew that with her on his side he would have a greater chance of convincing Sansom that his way was the best for all. It was the way of the world that an attractive woman could have most men doing exactly what she wanted.

In the falling dusk, the three of them headed back to Bodrum. It was agreed that Sansom would leave his hotel to share the villa with Eda. It made too much sense not to. Firstly though, he needed to visit the hotel to retrieve what few possessions he had left there.

In the light of Tallis’s revelations and concerns regarding the newspaper picture, it was decided that they would go there first together and exercise great caution in case someone had recognised him and alerted the police.

Driving once around the block revealed no evidence of police cars waiting in side streets; no sign of men with communications gadgets dangling out of their ears loitering on street corners. Eda parked at the end of the alley that Sansom had used to come and go. Tallis and Eda watched him slip down the narrow cluttered space to disappear and then waited.

‘You see that I’m right in this, don’t you?’ said Tallis, seizing an opportunity to speak to Eda alone. ‘I mean that he should wait, abandon this idea of an eye for an eye justice that he has. I understand it, I’ve lost someone in this too, but it’s not the way to deal with it. It can only end one way for him.’

‘I’m not sure he cares how it ends for him,’ she said. ‘He’s lost everything that made his life worthwhile and now he wants whoever is responsible to pay for it. He wants revenge. If the men in London are using him for their own ends they couldn’t have found a better man for it.’

‘Yes, but if he gets himself killed then there will be no hope of bringing any of them to justice. You must see that.’

‘It’s not me that you have to convince. It’s him.’

‘I was hoping that you might be able to help me there,’ he said.

 

*

 

Sansom let himself in through the rear exit of the hotel. Somewhere a television’s volume was turned up too high. He took the stairs to his floor and put his ear to the door of his room to check that no threat lay within. Satisfied, he unlocked the door and entered. All was as he had left it. Grabbing his holdall, he began collecting together the few things that he hadn’t left in the Audi.

As he came out of the bathroom holding his toiletries, he was faced by two men and a woman who crowded the open doorway. One was the man from reception. The other man was clearly hired muscle brought along to either intimidate or subdue Sansom if he didn’t cooperate. Sansom wondered what the woman was there for.

‘You want something?’ said Sansom.

The receptionist smiled, revealing those discoloured uneven teeth.

The woman’s presence then became obvious as she said in good English, ‘Yes. My friend wants to fix your arms behind your back with these,’ she raised a couple of electrician’s plastic ties and waved them playfully, ‘then you come with us – no problems.’

‘Why would I do that?’ said Sansom, feeling the dryness in his throat.

‘So we must not have to hurt you,’ she said, with a matter-of-factness that Sansom found as unsettling as the stocky tattooed thug glaring at him. ‘Have you not seen the newspapers? There is a likeness of you and a reward for us.’

‘It’s not me,’ he said.

‘So when police come you have no problems,’ she said, smiling at him, at her cleverness, exposing nice teeth that Sansom decided he would like to rearrange at the earliest opportunity.

 

*

 

‘I agree with you,’ said Eda, turning to face the policeman. ‘But what can I do? You’ve heard him.’

‘If you do agree with me, why are you helping him?’

‘It’s a chance for me to see a score settled. Botha is indirectly responsible for the death of my younger brother. His bullying drove him to suicide. Give me the chance and I would pull the trigger on that man myself.’

‘I’m sorry, I really am,’ said the DI, slumping back into his seat. ‘So, we’ve all lost loved ones, possibly to this man’s hand.’ There seemed to be little else he could say.

 

*

 

The three had by now shuffled into the confined space that was his room. The receptionist at the back gently closed the door. Sansom could see that he was holding a short stout length of timber. Escape appeared highly unlikely and everyone seemed aware of the fact. A distance of ten feet separated Sansom from the group. The muscleman at the front flexed his powerful arms.

‘So,’ said the woman, ‘throw your things to bed, arms behind you and turn around. We don’t need to hurt you.’

Sansom had no doubt that as soon as he was secured the piece of wood would find a way of connecting with his head. But, with little alternative, he did as he was told. Throwing the toiletries on to the bed next to him, he put his hands behind his back. His welcoming committee relaxed fractionally. Then, changing his mind, Sansom brought his hands back out in front of him clutching the pistol he had just retrieved from the toilet cistern and shoved down the back waistband of his trousers.

He levelled the gun at the stomach of the big man, flicked off the safety to impress upon them his intentions, and gave his instructions. His reputation, it appeared, went before him, as the three complied without hesitation or argument.

 

*

 

Eda checked her watch again. ‘Do you think there could be a problem? He’s been gone a long time.’

In the back of the car, Tallis was thinking the same. ‘Perhaps I should go and have a look,’ he said.

They were deliberating whether this would be a good idea when Sansom strode around the corner with his holdall.

Eda started the engine as he got in. ‘Everything all right?’

‘Few loose ends to tie up, that’s all. I’ll tell you about it as we drive.’

Tallis seemed the most anxious with the news that Sansom had been recognised. Sansom’s suggestion that he doubted the three he had just left well restrained would make public the fact that they had let him get away did little to dispel his concerns.

 

*

 

They dropped Tallis at his hotel with an agreement that they would all sleep on the day’s developments and an arrangement that Eda would be there to collect him the following morning. As Tallis prepared to leave the car, he placed his hand on Sansom’s shoulder.

‘I want to thank you both for the opportunity you gave me today,’ he said. ‘We’ve all lost people that we love. I, for one, want those responsible brought to justice without anyone else being lost. Get a good night’s rest.’

They watched him shuffle to the front of the building, his feet clearly causing him discomfort. The exertions of the day and the troubles they shared seemed to weigh heavily upon him.

Alone again with Sansom, Eda felt the return and the intensification of the nervousness she had experienced that morning, feelings that had been suspended in the company of the policeman.

Her thoughts regarding the situation she had now created for herself by inviting Sansom to stay with her chased each other around her mind. She realised that, with the feelings she was harbouring for Sansom, she had made a mistake – but it was too late now to do anything about it. She resolved to force her misgivings to the back of her mind and to deal with the future in an objective way.

They drove in silence for a while until, unable to bear the quiet any longer, she said, ‘What are you thinking?’

‘Sorry,’ said Sansom, ‘my thoughts are all over the place at the moment. I suppose I’m struggling to take it all in. I’m confused. There’s too much to think about and I’m tired.’ He turned to face her. ‘What about you? You must be exhausted?’

‘I aim to have an early night,’ she said. ‘But right now, I’m very hungry.’

They agreed to pick up some take-away food and take it back to the villa. As they drove in the darkness, they talked around the discussions of the day. They shared thoughts about the day to come.

Arriving at the last big town before the drive into the remoteness of the villa, they stopped at a pizza parlour.

When Eda returned to the car fifteen minutes later with their dinner, Sansom was gone. They had agreed that he should stay in the car, not venture out unnecessarily where he could be recognised. Standing in the street looking around, her mind alive with the possibilities of what could have happened, she saw him walking down the pavement towards her, a supermarket carrier bag dangling from his hand. She gave him a questioning look.

‘Wait and see,’ he said.

Back at the house, Sansom took his holdall up to one of the spare bedrooms and to find a shower. Eda placed the pizza in the oven to warm it through, opened a bottle of wine, used some of the vegetables she had purchased earlier to make a salad and set a table for them.

She reflected on how comfortable they were with each other, now that she had temporarily managed to suppress her schoolgirl attraction for him. She determined to keep it that way.

She noticed the carrier bag with Sansom’s recent purchase still in it on the chair where he’d left it. Curiosity getting the better of her, she peeked inside.

‘Hoped that I might talk you into using it on me later,’ said Sansom, from the doorway behind her. Caught red-handed, she removed the box from the bag and laughed as she found she was holding a home-hairdresser electric hair-clipper set.

 

*

 

They were easy with each other as they ate their meal, more like a couple on their summer holidays than a pair of strangers thrown together to find and kill a man. They talked about their lives, their politics and their cultures.

It was after Eda had stifled her fifth yawn that Sansom looked her in the eye and told her in earnest to go to bed. Mellowed and comfortable with the food, the wine and the company, she smiled at him for his perception and gratefully did as she was told.

It was not so late for Sansom, who had at least had some sleep in the previous twenty-four hours. Clearing away the dinner things, he doused the lights and went outside to sit on the veranda.

A shimmering silver carpet rolled out on top of the black water to the full moon in a cloudless sky. Cicadas fidgeted in the nearby undergrowth and a warm breeze brought to him the scent and whisperings of the sea. Under the influences of such an idyllic setting, finally alone with his thoughts, he deliberated on the developments of the day and wondered how far this would go. How it would end.

 

***

 

 

17

When Eda surfaced in the morning she stumbled, still half stupid with sleep, into the kitchen area to be confronted by the back of a man she didn’t recognise. She was instantly brought to her senses. As he turned to the sound of her approach, she breathed a sigh of relief, realising that the man was Sansom.

Clearly impatient to alter his appearance, he had attempted to cut his hair himself. Intrigued by his efforts, pulling her robe about her, she approached for a closer inspection, which started her laughing. While the front and top were not too shabby, the sides and rear presented missed clumps and the odd patch where he had obviously been overzealous. There was some dried blood behind one ear. He waited for her verdict.

‘Why didn’t you wait for me?

He shrugged. ‘You were sleeping. I was up with nothing to do.’

She shook her head at him and laughed.

They sat on the veranda enjoying proper coffee and the view across the Aegean. In three hours they were to collect Tallis from his hotel. That gave them time, they agreed, for her to tidy up his hair and then for them both to swim. They could pick up breakfast on the way.

 

*

 

Tallis was waiting for them in the shade of the hotel’s awning, sporting a more conservative shirt than the previous day. He strongly approved of Sansom’s new look, claiming that even he probably wouldn’t have recognised him minus his most distinguishing feature.

Tallis handed a local newspaper to Eda, asking her to see if anything had been reported in it regarding Sansom’s incident at the hotel the previous evening. She found nothing, although they all agreed that even if it had been reported it probably would have been too late to have made that morning’s edition.

Before leaving the commercial centre of town, they had a purchase to make – a charger for the phone that Sansom had lifted from the dead man. Sansom reasoned that there was a possibility that the man he had spoken to before would try to contact him again, may already have done so. With a lifeless phone they would have no way of knowing and be cutting off an avenue of further communication, an option.

At the shopping area, Tallis and Eda went in search of what they needed while Sansom reluctantly agreed to wait in the car. In half an hour they were back. Tallis had bought himself a pair of binoculars and Eda had two chargers, one for the car and one for the villa.

Eda got them back on the Akyarlar road. As they drove, they gave voice to their thoughts and opinions. Sansom plugged the phone charger into the car’s cigarette lighter.

The summers in Bodrum were constantly scorching – a large part of their appeal, Eda explained. This summer was no different: stifling late morning and midday heat would only ease off after mid-afternoon to be somewhere around bearable in the sun’s uninterrupted glare by early evening. However, the Bodrum peninsula was also blessed with an almost constant breeze, which did something to alleviate the otherwise oppressive temperatures. Despite this cheering fact, all were grateful for the efficient air conditioning system of the car.

 

*

 

By the time they arrived at the elevated ground that overlooked the sea-level settlement of Akyarlar it was midday. The three had mixed opinions on the wisdom of a visit. However, Sansom was adamant that he wanted to know whether Botha’s yacht had arrived in the bay. As they stood by the roadside scanning the sea below, Tallis announced that he could see nothing resembling what they were looking for. Sansom took the binoculars and, after scouring the panorama, agreed. With nothing else to do there, they decided to head back to the villa.

Back in the comfort of the car, Sansom checked the charging phone. No blinking messages showed on the screen.

‘Let me see,’ said Eda, holding out her hand. He passed it across to her. Bestowing a pitying look upon the soldier, she said, ‘It might help if we turn it on.’

It was easily done. No password was required. She waited a moment while the phone sought out the satellite that would connect it to its network. The full allocation of signal bars was raised on the screen and then the handset beeped, announcing the arrival of a voicemail message.

Sansom indicated that Eda should deal with it. She played the message on the loudspeaker. Tallis leaned forward from the back seat. The strongly-accented South African voice of the man that Sansom had crossed swords with three days previously came on the line. ‘This is a message for the unknown assassin. My employer is interested in meeting with you. You appear to be harbouring an ill-founded grudge against him and he would like the opportunity of discussing it with you as he believes that there must be some misunderstanding that can be cleared up. Call me back on this number if this interests you.’

The message ended. They played it twice more. Eda checked to find that the caller had phoned from an unprotected number and wrote it down. She also noted that the message was thirty-six hours old.

‘Well,’ said Tallis, ‘that’s interesting. Given them time to sweat on it for a bit as well. What do you think?’

‘I think that it’s obviously going to be a trap,’ said Eda. ‘I know these people. Don’t even consider meeting them.’

‘I think I have them worried,’ said Sansom. ‘I think that’s a good thing. I also think that I have to take them up on their offer. What alternative do I have if we want the truth?’

‘I think you’re both right,’ said Tallis ‘and I think that we have to be very careful indeed.’

 

*

 

They arrived back at the villa a little over an hour later. Eda was still quietly simmering that the men would even consider a meeting with Botha or his people but chose, in the face of their stupidity, to keep her mouth shut for the moment.

Sitting around the table with some cold drinks, Sansom and Tallis discussed the phone message.

‘Of course,’ said Tallis, ‘the man is not to be trusted. If you do meet him, and I can see how useful that could be, then it would have to be in a very public place. But of course there’s no guarantee that he wouldn’t just set a trap for you and have you picked up by the police. That would be you out of the way.’

Sansom considered this for a moment. ‘There’s a good chance that he doesn’t know why I’m after him,’ he said. ‘We could use that to our advantage.’

‘How do you mean?

‘If he doesn’t know why I’m making all this effort to make his life a misery, he’s bound to be interested in finding out. Wouldn’t you be?’

‘Yes,’ said the policeman, ‘but if I thought you were responsible for the death of three men that worked for me, I might be more inclined to have you neutralised effectively before I started asking questions.’

‘What about agreeing to talk to him on the phone?’ said Eda, breaking her silence. ‘Why is it essential for you to meet him?’ The men looked at each other.

‘Worth a try,’ said the policeman.

‘You’re forgetting one thing,’ said Sansom. ‘The reason that I’m here. I want to get close to him. I want to have him to myself so that I can ask him some questions and be sure of getting some truthful answers.’

‘You can never be sure of that,’ said Tallis.

‘You can with the right leverage.’

‘What sort of leverage?’ said the policeman.

‘The sort of leverage that he deals in. It’s the only thing he’ll understand.’ Sansom stood up and walked away from the table. He pushed through the screen door to sit on the veranda, leaving Eda and Tallis alone to exchange concerned looks.

‘What do you think he means by that?’ said Tallis.

‘I don’t know,’ she said.

‘What if I were to meet him?’ said Tallis.

‘Who? Botha? Are you crazy?’

‘I’m deadly serious. He doesn’t know me. He can have no grudge against me. I have my police rank to support me.’

‘A lot of good that will do,’ she said. ‘You said yourself that you have no jurisdiction here.’

‘I know that and you know that but Botha won’t.’

She looked at him, considering. ‘Why would you meet him? Why would you put yourself in that position?’

‘Because I want the truth about what happened to my daughter. I want to know how Bishop is involved and I know that he bloody well is. I want answers because it’s all I care about. Besides, if you accept that Bishop has sent Acer to assassinate Botha there must be some history between them, some very unpleasant history. And when Botha finds out that Acer is here under the patronage of Bishop he may be encouraged to be far more forthcoming with information, don’t you agree?’

Reluctantly, she did. ‘What about your justice?’

He smiled at her. ‘Oh, I want that too, eventually.’

‘What makes you think that he’d even meet you, talk to you, be honest with you?’

‘You’d be surprised, perhaps,’ he said. ‘I’ve interviewed people who can’t wait to tell you all about their crimes. Anyway, what would he have to fear from telling me the truth about anything that implicated him in a crime? It’s not like I’d be able to prove anything, not like I can be a physical threat to him. Look at me.’

‘But again, how would you get him to meet you?’

‘Because he would think that he was going to be meeting our friend out there,’ he nodded towards the window, beyond which Sansom could be seen staring fixedly at a point far out at sea.

 

*

‘It’s a mad idea,’ said Sansom, over lunch. ‘It’s far too risky. What would stop him from just getting up, walking away? Or worse?’

‘For one, we don’t have many options. Don’t think what if he doesn’t play ball, think what if he does? You’re wanted the length and breadth of Turkey so if you get caught in a trap – let’s say he has police waiting to pick you up – then where would you be? Finished, that’s where.

‘There’s nothing I can be arrested for. I’ve simply been asked to meet someone as a favour to a fellow I met in a bar. And if we arrange the meeting place for somewhere nice and public, then he can’t exactly drag me off a gunpoint, can he?’

Sansom’s silence indicated to the other two that his objection was weakening. ‘Besides,’ said Tallis, ‘while I might not have any official standing in this country, I am still a Detective Inspector with my credentials. I should think that it would come as enough of a, let’s say, surprise for our Mr Botha to find himself sitting across from a member of the British police force investigating murder.

‘And lastly, how long do you think you could keep your cool sitting across from the man you blame for the ruination of your world? Give me a chance to have a go at him first, my way. If it doesn’t work out then you can try it yours.’

Sansom considered for a long moment, staring at his confederate, before slowly nodding his head. ‘You are a persuasive man, Mr Tallis,’ he smiled. ‘Let’s hope you can be just as effective with Botha.’

 

*

 

They finished their lunch in better spirits, discussing what had been agreed and using Eda’s knowledge of Bodrum to explore ideas of places where they could arrange a meeting with Botha.

After the meal had been cleared away, it was agreed that there was no point in delaying returning the phone call. While the other two looked on, Sansom dialled the number. It was answered on the fifth ring. Sansom recognised the voice of the man who had left the message, the same man that he’d had the angry exchange of words with a few days before.

‘Who am I talking to?’

‘The man who you need to be talking to,’ answered the voice. ‘Who are you?’

‘We’ve spoken before,’ said Sansom. ‘Now I want to speak to Botha.’

‘That’s not possible. He is unavailable.’

‘I’ll call back at six. Make sure he’s available then. I won’t call again after that.’ He terminated the connection. The other two stared at him, stunned.

‘Was that wise?’ said Tallis.

‘Can’t let them mess you around. You start talking to the monkey, you’ll never get the respect of the organ grinder.’

‘An interesting perspective,’ said Tallis, a hint of anxiety in his voice. ‘And what if he isn’t available at six?’

‘He’ll be available. There’s nowhere that he can’t be found in four hours even if they’ve made land somewhere.’

‘I hope you’re right,’ said Tallis. ‘Calling people’s bluff is a game fraught with danger.’ Sansom shrugged. He stood up, looking to release some of his pent up energy. ‘Anyway,’ said Tallis, trying to inject some levity into the atmosphere, ‘at least we know what you’re not cut out for.’

‘What’s that?’ said Sansom.

‘Hostage negotiation.’

Nobody laughed.

Sansom announced that, with time to kill, he’d be in the Aegean if they needed him. Eda decided to join him. Tallis, still suffering from the previous day’s exertions and feeling the soporific effects of the meal he’d recently consumed, wondered if he might be able to use the time to take a nap.

Eda showed him to a spare bedroom and settled him in. Alone together for a moment, he spoke to her in earnest: ‘Will you try to talk some sense into him, please? He’ll listen to you, I’m sure of it. Losing control is not going to help us in dealing with these people.’

She gave him an understanding look. ‘I’ll try.’

She closed the door, leaving him to rest, and took a deep breath at the prospect of the afternoon with Sansom.

The soldier was sitting on the veranda in the seat that he seemed to favour. Eda sat down next to him. ‘You know he’s only trying to help, to keep you from doing something that’s going to get you killed or arrested?’

‘I know,’ he said, his voice softer. ‘He seems a good man. Seems like he knows what he’s talking about.’

‘Then listen to him, work with him. We’re all on the same side and there’s only the three of us.’

He nodded, staring out to the horizon. Sitting next to him like that, she felt a wave of affection and warmth for him. Before she really knew what she was doing, she had laid her hand on his. He didn’t pull away. He turned to her, locked his intense eyes on hers and something was exchanged between them. He brought his other hand over to rest on hers and left it there for a moment before giving her a light squeeze and smiling. Her insides seemed to liquefy and she felt a flush of something warm and pleasurable flood her body.

‘How about that swim?’ he said.

Not trusting herself to speak, she simply nodded. He stood. Still holding her hand, he hauled her up so that they were facing each other, a foot separating them. He stepped back then, releasing his hold, aware that he was crowding her, unaware that what she craved at that moment was contact, for him to take hold of her and pull her against him, not let go.

 

***

 

 

18

They swam together for a while, revelling in the environment, enjoying sharing the experience. When Eda had had enough, Sansom pushed out into deeper waters away from most other bathers and punished himself with a lengthy session of toing and froing.

When he finally emerged from the sea his limbs and lungs ached from the exertion. His mind was clearer and he felt relaxed and invigorated. He found Eda sitting in the shade on the villa’s terrace.

‘You push yourself hard,’ she said.

‘Losing myself in exercise helps me to think.’

‘And was it a productive thinking session?’

He smiled broadly at her. ‘Oh yes. Any of that coffee left?’

She raised her eyebrows, sighed theatrically and stood. ‘Sit down. I’ll get you a cup.’

‘I’ve noticed that you’re putting some weight back on,’ she said, when she returned.

He laughed. ‘Me too. Another reason for not getting lazy.’

A comfortable silence stretched out between them before Eda said, ‘Can I ask you what it was like living alone, being marooned on that island for that long? Do you mind me asking?’

Something dark briefly touched his features and she feared that she had spoilt the moment. He took a stabilising breath and, exhaling deeply, said, ‘I don’t mind you asking. Initially, it was truly awful, like living some horrific nightmare day after day and every night. Only it wasn’t some horrible dark fantasy; it was real. The memories of the murders were never far from my thoughts. The frustration and anger I felt for being so useless through it all just made things worse. And with no one to talk to about it, to share it all with,’ he paused, ‘I felt sometimes like I was going to go mad – literally crazy.

‘In the early days, I didn’t care whether I was going to live or not. But then I realised that I desperately wanted to survive. I knew that if I could then I would find whoever was responsible and bring them to account. I used that as a motivating force to get me through it.

‘Once I had that focus, that core desire, it became unshakeable. I wasn’t going to allow them, whoever they were, to get away with it. I got down to forming routines, bringing all my survival training to bear on my situation. Is that what you want to hear about?’

‘I suppose I do,’ she said. ‘It’s beyond my comprehension how you managed it. Yes, I’d like to know about your life there.’

‘I suppose it helped a great deal that I’ve always been a solitary person. I mean that I’ve never had a problem with my own company. Granted, a year on that place was pushing it, but once I’d settled into my routines, I got used to it. I had to. I was always busy with something or other: working on some craft to get me off the place; worrying about water, how to collect and conserve it; food; shelter; staying vigilant for any craft that might pass by the island within range of some kind of contact.’

He laughed quietly. ‘Don’t misunderstand me, I was desperate to be rescued, but until that day arrived, for my own sanity, it was essential that I took the whole experience as some kind of challenge, a battle if you like. I wasn’t going to be defeated by nature. Not there. I had too much to do when I finally got away.’

‘What did you eat?’

‘Not enough. I expected water to be my main concern at first but I was fortunate. There were natural water catchments in the rocks and contrary to my concerns it rained often, so they were replenished. I’m not saying it was endless or even clean most of the time, but it was drinkable. The place must have been inhabited at some time, a long time ago.’

‘Really? How did you know?’

‘Pigs. There was a small pig population. They certainly weren’t part of the island’s evolutionary process and despite what some people might have you believe, they don’t fly. So, that only leaves one explanation: they were carried there by man. It’s not uncommon for settlers to transport and rear a pig population. They’re marvellous workers, turn land over for you to plant things in, clear whole areas for you – and they taste pretty good, too.’

She stared at him open-mouthed as the implication dawned on her. ‘You ate them?’

‘It was them or me. Believe me, when you get hungry enough, desperate enough, you’ll eat anything, even if you have to catch it and kill it, gut it and cook it yourself.’

‘I couldn’t,’ she said.

‘Truth is, I didn’t very often. You see, it might sound ridiculous now, but they were a form of company, and I admired them immensely for their industry, their community spirit. Besides, the whole killing and butchering did more to cure my appetite than eating them. There was a decent selection of vegetation on the island. Roots can be very nutritious and filling. There were lots of coconut palms. And once I got the hang of it, the fishing was plentiful.’

‘It sounds,’ she struggled for the words to do it justice, ‘just so fantastic, so unbelievable, so impossible. I can’t really comprehend what it must have been like.’

‘No one can,’ he said. ‘It’s not something that can be imagined. It’s not something that I’d recommend either.’

After a few moments’ quiet, she said, ‘Would you ever want to go back?’

He gave her a long look before answering, ‘Never.’ And she knew from that one word and the quiet, sincere way in which he expressed it that he had probably never meant anything as vehemently in his whole life.

‘Go back where?’ said Tallis, emerging through the screen door.

‘To his island,’ said Eda.

‘Blimey, I shouldn’t think so,’ said Tallis. ‘Must have seen enough of that place and anything like it to last you a lifetime, eh?’

‘Indeed,’ said Sansom, eyeing the policeman in a friendly way, ‘quite enough.’

‘Hope you don’t mind,’ said Tallis, raising a mug, ‘I’ve pinched the last of the coffee.’

‘I’ll make some more,’ said Eda, standing.

‘Don’t suppose you’ve got any tea, have you?’ said Tallis, as she made for the kitchen.

‘Tea I have. Liquid milk I don’t. I have powdered milk, but I doubt that you’d be interested in that as an Englishman.’

The prospect of such an awful combination registered on Tallis’s face. ‘Don’t worry, love. Coffee’s fine, thanks.’ He plonked himself down beside Sansom with a groan. ‘I’m getting old, lad,’ he said. Sansom acknowledged his gentle complaint. ‘Thought any more about my proposal?’

‘I have. I think you’re crazy to even want to put yourself in such a position. It could be very dangerous for you. But I also think that you’re absolutely right in the way that you reason it.’

‘So you agree. No problem?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good man,’ he said, patting the soldier’s knee. ‘It’s for the best all round, believe me.’

‘I hope you’re right.’

 

*

 

It came as a surprise to each of them to realise that the time was approaching six o’clock. Tallis tried giving some gentle advice to Sansom – the benefit of his experience, he called it – regarding how to conduct himself during the call, whatever may be said to him. Sansom patiently heard him out, although it seemed to Eda that it was a humouring exercise on the part of the soldier and that his mind was already made up as to how he would play it when the time came.

A tense atmosphere shrouded the room as the three of them sat listening to Sansom’s ringing phone, loudspeaker enabled. On the fifth ring, it was answered.

‘My name is Botha,’ said a voice that resonated with importance. Sansom’s eyes flicked to Eda. She nodded. ‘Who are you and what do you want?’

‘My name is not important,’ said Sansom. ‘Call me Smith if you like. As to what I want,’ he looked at Tallis, whose face betrayed his concern that he might screw things up. ‘I want to meet you. I have a matter to discuss with you, a grievance. At least, I have been led to believe that my grievance is with you.’

‘Do you seriously think that I would even consider meeting you when you are responsible for the deaths of three of my men?’

‘Not having been there, you can be forgiven for not knowing that your men were responsible for their own deaths. You really shouldn’t let them run around with loaded weapons if they don’t know when to use them and when to keep them holstered.’

‘What is the grievance that you want to discuss with me?’ said Botha, ignoring the advice.

‘No, Mr Botha. It is not something that can be discussed on the telephone. I believe that you are in Bodrum, or soon will be. So am I. I’m not going to give up until we have spoken face to face, no matter how many of your men you send after me.’

He gave that a moment to settle. ‘I have a list of three places where I am prepared to meet you. I will relay them to you at the end of this call. My offer is this, you can check them out and take your pick of which one you would prefer. When I arrive, you can have me searched. I only ask for some of your time and some information. After that I will leave you alone.’

‘Providing any information that I may give you doesn’t confirm that your ‘“grievance”’ is with me.’

‘Correct.’

‘And what if it does?’

‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.’

‘You’re very sure of yourself. I’m intrigued enough to consider your proposal.’ Sansom said nothing. ‘I’m going to pass you across to someone who will take note of your meeting places. Call back on this number tomorrow evening. Shall we say six o’clock again?’ It was a question, but he didn’t wait for an answer.

The security advisor came on the line: ‘Let’s have them.’

Sansom reeled off the venues that Eda had suggested as very public and open. Now that he wasn’t going to attend himself, they had felt it unnecessary to check out each option beforehand. When he had finished detailing the third one, the line went dead. Clearly, the security advisor was in no mood for small talk. Sansom collapsed back into the upholstery, blowing out his cheeks. Tallis and Eda visibly relaxed.

‘Well done, lad,’ said Tallis. ‘You handled him well.’

‘Do you really think he’ll go for it?’ asked Eda.

‘There’s one way to find out if he’s serious,’ said the policeman.

‘What would that be?’ said Sansom.

‘If he has any intention of considering a meeting with you he’ll have the places checked out, probably tomorrow. It’s too late today. I propose that tomorrow we each take up a position to watch one of the venues. That way we’ll know for sure.’

There was a short silence while Eda and Sansom considered this logic.

‘Leave it to the police, eh?’ said Sansom, smiling.

‘It’s the voice of experience, lad,’ said Tallis. ‘That’s all.’

‘OK. I’m in,’ said Sansom.

‘Me too,’ said Eda.

‘Good,’ said Tallis. ‘Now, why don’t you two drive me back to my hotel, sort yourselves some food out and prepare for an early night. Tomorrow could be a long day. Besides, last night I missed my meal at the hotel restaurant. I heard that it was bloody good food. And as I’ve paid for it, I intend to eat it tonight, at least.’

 

*

 

With Tallis safely installed back at his hotel, Eda and Sansom happily agreed to forgo shopping and cooking in favour of finding a secluded restaurant where they could relax. Being familiar with the region, Eda drove for some miles along the rugged coastline in the falling dusk towards an outcrop of rock on the peninsula where, she assured him, they would find a restaurant with superb Turkish dishes and some of the finest views of the area. He was not to be disappointed.

They sat on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Aegean, with a myriad of ships dotted about, their lights twinkling in the semi-darkness, and Sansom slipped easily into a relaxed frame of mind. The fine food and extortionately-priced foreign wine – why not let Bishop pay for it, he reasoned? – contributed to his sense of something bordering on contentment. The realisation stabbed his conscience when he thought of those he had lost; those he had been unable to protect; those he had yet to avenge. For a moment, he sank into a reflective guilty silence.

Reading something of the internal struggle on Sansom’s face and in his sudden quietness, Eda spoke. Emboldened by the wine coursing freely through her system, she broached the subject that would either ruin and curtail their evening or take their relationship, whatever it was and wherever it was headed, to another level. Sitting across from him, observing him and exploring his features for the hundredth time, she knew well what she hoped the result would be.

‘Is it still so painful?’ she said.

He smiled apologetically at her. ‘Is it so obvious?’

‘I don’t suppose you’ve had the chance to talk about it in a helpful way to anyone, someone professional, have you? It could help.’

‘No, I haven’t. I spoke once about it for my Army debriefing in the hospital and, of course, to you in Istanbul. To be honest, I’m not sure that I could manage to lie on a couch and pour my heart out to some stranger with a wall of framed certificates. It’s not me.’

With her toe already in the water, she ventured out a little further. ‘Please, tell me to mind my own business if you like,’ she waited a moment, giving him opportunity to stop her before she began. ‘I’ve lost too. You know that. Someone as close as anyone I’ll ever have. It’s a cliché but time does heal all wounds or at least dulls the pain of remembering. But you have to let it.’

Sensing no resistance, she pressed on. ‘From the moment that something traumatic happens, you’re on a recovery process. Depending on the incident, it might take days, weeks, months or years. Of course, there are some things that one never gets over. One couldn’t. One shouldn’t. Our losses will never leave us, but we still have our lives to live. Can I ask you something very personal and risk spoiling a wonderful night?’

He met her stare. ‘Go on.’

In the light of the table’s solitary candle his eyes assumed an almost hypnotic effect as she stared into them, throwing her for a moment.

‘What do you think your wife would want for you? What do you think she would say about what you are doing?’

‘That’s two things,’ he said, which at least showed that he wasn’t about to insist that they settled the bill and leave. Progress, she thought. ‘The truth is,’ he answered, after a pause, ‘that I don’t know. She was a mature, thoughtful and intelligent woman. I’m sure she wouldn’t approve of what I’m doing now in memory of her but for the loss of our daughter.’

For a moment he seemed unable to finish. ‘For the loss of our daughter who meant everything to us, she might be unable to disapprove. She was a modern woman with modern ideals and a modern liberal sense of crime and punishment, generally, but when something is so personal that all often goes out of the window. Surely you understand that? You’ve told me yourself that you want Botha dead for what he did to your brother.’

Changing tack, but keen not to lose her initiative and his engagement in the subject, she said, ‘And after this, assuming that there is an after this, what do you think she would want for you?’

Had she been too obvious? Was there something about the way her body language betrayed her desires? Was she just too pushy? She didn’t know and could only guess as Sansom seemed to refuse at the question as a horse might refuse an unfamiliar jump.

However, his smile conveyed to her a sense of understanding of her direction. Evasively, he simply answered that he just wouldn’t know. Unable to hold the flush of her embarrassment from spreading across her face, she could only hope that in the dimness of the restaurant her blushing was not so obvious.

For the remainder of the evening Eda avoided the alcohol that she now blamed for her forwardness, excusing her abstinence because of the drive home. Both steered away from the difficult subjects that Eda had seemed unable to avoid raising whenever they’d been alone during the day. However, any awkwardness was quickly forgotten as they talked, confided and planned – the circumstances that had brought them together once again uniting them.

 

*

 

Their return journey was more sedate than Eda’s usual driving. Windows down, the breeze created by their progress filled the car with the warmth and night-time fragrances of the peninsula. Combined with the good food and drink, this led them to share the comfortable quiet without a hint of unease.

Without conversation, Eda’s mind wandered forwards to scenarios that she couldn’t stop herself from generating. When they returned, should she offer him coffee? A walk? A sit on the veranda? Should she simply feign tiredness, despite feeling anything but, and take herself off to bed? Being honest with herself, she knew that what she wanted more than anything else she could think of was Sansom in her bed.

With a start, she realised that she was veering as she lost concentration. Fully aware of the catastrophe that leaving the road would be in this country and at this time of night, she recovered her senses and, lighting a cigarette, forced her attention away from the desires of her fantasies and back to the road.

 

*

 

When they returned, the gated holiday-home community was as quiet as one would expect of a place inhabited largely by the semi-old. Sansom, more vigilant it seemed in these last few days than he had been when he first arrived in Turkey, insisted that they tour the few drivable roads of the complex to make sure there were no nasty surprises waiting for them.

As satisfied as they could be that no threat existed, they approached their own road and Eda’s villa.

Eda had mixed feelings as she felt herself losing her battle with teenage lust as they approached the villa. She caught herself breathing more deeply, could almost detect a change in her personal scent, and for a fearful moment felt that her body had betrayed her feelings to Sansom. A sidelong glance at him neither confirmed nor denied this. His attention appeared to be fixed outside the car.

Rounding the corner, a hundred feet from the villa, she was snapped out of her dreaming. Outside the villa a car idled, wispy exhaust fumes spiralled upwards, its rear lights illuminated the surrounding shrubbery. The number plate showed it to be of Istanbul origin.

She braked a little too hard, sliding with a drawn out crunch on the loose gravel surface. As they sat staring through the windscreen, a man leapt out of the driver’s door and shouted something towards the house. Before Eda had reacted, he had slid back into the vehicle, thrown it into gear and begun to manoeuvre it for an about-turn in the narrow roadway.

‘Eda,’ said Sansom, with a quiet urgency, ‘get us out of here.’

 

***

 

 

19

Snatched from her reverie, Eda took precious seconds to come alive to, and then react to, the situation unfolding in front of her. The car that had been waiting outside the villa was almost half-way through its frantic U-turn before she had engaged reverse gear and, more skilfully than Sansom would have expected, whipped the little hatchback round.

She accelerated away in a roar of loose gravel, weaving in and out of the parked cars that staggered the roadway. They took the speed humps that signalled the approaching exit without slowing – then screeched to a halt straddling the community gateway. For a moment Sansom feared that the car, as a protest to its rough treatment, had quit on them.

An old man in his private security shirt reared up in his booth. Leaning across Sansom, Eda shouted something through the open window, released the clutch and screeched away.

Sansom turned in his seat to see the headlights of their pursuers’ car approach the exit. ‘What did you say to the guard?’

‘I told him to shut the electronic gate because my husband was trying to kill me.’

The sound of someone leaning on their car horn caught up with them.

‘It’s stopped them.’

‘It’ll only keep them a few seconds. I doubt it will take them long to persuade him to open it again.’

Into top gear and accelerating still, they squealed around a bend and Sansom lost sight of the picture-postcard community and the people that had been looking for them.

Without the visible threat of their pursuers to distract him, his mind raced with the possibilities of who they were: police or Botha’s men? More immediate still was the nature of Eda’s driving in such precarious conditions. Either side of the narrow, unlit road presented little hope of avoiding serious injury if they were to leave the unpredictable surface. As if to emphasise this, a huge pothole was abruptly illuminated by their headlights. Yanking on the wheel to avoid it, Eda only managed to send them into the verge on the other side of the road. She dropped a gear and, undeterred, threw the car forward again.

Sansom cast a look backwards. No vehicle’s lights penetrated the blackness. He was about to tell Eda to slow down a little when she spoke above the protesting engine. ‘Up ahead we’ll meet the main highway. One way leads to Bodrum, the other will take us back in the direction of the restaurant we were at tonight.’

She interrupted herself to overtake one of the many taxi-style minibuses that plied their trade up and down the coast road linking the remoter communities. They strafed each other with an exchange of angry horn blasts. Favouring concentration on her driving over sharing further thoughts, she dropped a gear again and began a winding ascent.

As they achieved some elevation, Sansom again turned in his seat to try to catch sight of their followers. ‘They’re coming,’ he said.

Still well back and below them now, he could make out a fast-moving pair of headlights. While it wasn’t guaranteed that it was their pursuers, it wasn’t worth the risk of assuming otherwise. If he could see them, then they would also have sight of their fleeing vehicle.

‘How far?’ said Eda.

‘About half a mile. They’ve still got a lot of ground to make up on the minibus, but they’re closing quickly.’

Still looking behind them, Sansom felt himself momentarily part company from his seat and the contents of his stomach rise up and threaten to embarrass him. He realised immediately that they had crested the incline. Turning to look forward as the vehicles behind dropped out of sight, he saw the descent corresponding to the climb they had just made drop down before them.

From their temporary vantage point he could also see the main highway. Laid out for miles in each direction, the ribbon of asphalt was festooned with late-night traffic. Providing Eda could continue at her chosen speeds and keep the car on the road, there was a good chance that they could join the main road before the car chasing them made the top of the hill they were now half-way down.

As if reading his mind, she said, ‘Which way should I go?’

Before he could answer, they were lifted from the road surface as the car went over an unseen hump. Bracing himself for the landing, he fleetingly wondered whether he would need to make that decision. They landed with a protest from the suspension but no interruption to their progress.

Right to Bodrum, where they could lose themselves and their pursuers; left to he-didn’t-really-know-where, other than it would take them back towards the restaurant. He looked behind but the darkness was still complete.

‘You need to tell me soon,’ she said, a hint of unease in her voice.

‘Left,’ he said. ‘Go left and just drive like everyone else. Fit in.’

Instantly the words were out of his mouth, he doubted his decision and feared the chance that he was taking. They should be going right, get into the crowded centre of Bodrum where they would stand a better chance of being anonymous. But that’s what their followers would expect them to do, wouldn’t they?

In the desperate seconds before they reached the highway, he found himself hoping that the minibus was holding up the other vehicle or that maybe, in their haste to catch them, their chasers had suffered the fate that he had half expected Eda’s driving would lead them to.

Eyes fixed on the blackness behind them, he prepared to change his mind. If he saw lights, any lights, prick the darkness before they reached the main carriageway, he would change his mind, tell Eda to go right and get to Bodrum as quickly as she could.

He felt the car begin to slow as she made her approach to join the traffic. He risked a glance at Eda in the dull glow of the dashboard lighting. Her jaw was clenched in concentration and determination; her hands gripped the wheel tightly, eyes boring into the scene in front of her, completely focussed, making her calculations.

And then Sansom realised with a pang of dread that the direction he had told her to take them in would mean crossing a lane of traffic, potentially costing them valuable seconds or a collision. He’d made a stupid basic mistake.

But it was too late. As he turned to look once more behind them, he felt the car surge across the smooth tarmac, heard the screech of tyres and the irate horn-blast of a surprised and then angry motorist, and they were on the road back to where they had been earlier. Immediately Eda slowed the vehicle to blend in with the traffic around them.

Above them, with the commanding view that they had just enjoyed, a pair of headlights broke the cover of the night. Even at the distance between them, Sansom could make out the cloud of dust thrown up and illuminated by the car’s lights as it braked hard to a halt. Sansom imagined them, whoever they were, scanning, arguing, deliberating, deciding. And then they too plunged down the side of the hill towards the highway.

Seconds behind them, the lights of a larger vehicle, probably the minibus, broke cover and began its more leisurely decent. Sansom realised with silent thanks that the bus must have held the car up.

He locked his gaze on to their chasers, followed them down the fall in the land, imagined the occupants’ heated debate about which way to go and then held his breath as they arrived at the main road.

Knowing that they hadn’t arrived in time to see which way Eda had turned, that their decision would now be reliant on hasty reasoning and intuition, he strained to see back through the traffic which option they would take. They turned right. He saw their red tail lights weaving in and out of the traffic and heard with satisfaction the extra confirmation of the blasting horns of affronted drivers. He slumped into the seat, the tension flowing out of his body, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

‘They’ve turned right,’ he said. She almost collapsed on to the wheel as her adrenalin dried up. Reaching out, he put his hand on her shoulder. ‘You were amazing. Where did you learn to drive like that?’

‘Istanbul city centre,’ she managed, with a straight face. And then, unable to hold it in, she burst out laughing. In a second he was laughing with her. It was the laughter of those who had negotiated a narrow escape from mortal danger; the euphoric, almost hysterical, laughter that signalled the release of pent-up energy with nowhere else to go.

When they had regained control of themselves, she said, ‘What should we do now?’

He noticed that she was shaking. ‘Find somewhere up ahead to stop for a minute.’

Before a mile was up, a darkened road on their side, flanked by mature trees, broke off from the main highway. Eda cautiously drove well down, in case their pursuers had changed their minds and turned in their direction. She rolled the vehicle to a stop, doused the lights and slumped.

‘Come on,’ he said, ‘let’s get some air.’

Together, they got out, Sansom coming around to her side of the car. Leaning back against the car, she took a cigarette from a pack in a trembling hand and attempted to light it. But her nerves had overtaken her and she couldn’t work the lighter. Gently, Sansom took it from her and, close now, brought it to life. The flame illuminated their features and created an intimacy that, despite their proximity to each other, had not been overly apparent in the darkness. It seemed to surprise them both.

Sansom held the flame, waiting for her to dip her cigarette into it, but her eyes were locked on his, her nicotine-fix forgotten. Slowly raising her hand, she took the cigarette from between her lips and blew out the flame. Reaching out, she took hold of him and, with no resistance, pulled him towards her. Their mouths met and melded together. With the hunger that had filled her recent foolish thoughts, she pushed herself into him and, exploring his mouth with her tongue, found herself welcomed and rewarded in return.

Gasping for air and stunned with the intensity of the pleasure, she pulled herself away from him. Undeterred, he pulled her tighter to him in an embrace that indicated far more to Eda than she could have hoped to anticipate.

Finally, he released her and stepped back. Holding out the lighter, he fired it alive again. This time she lit and inhaled deeply. Her senses reeled with the intoxication of the drugs, natural and man-made, that coursed through her system. She felt utterly spent and sagged against the vehicle.

Lending his arm to steady her, he said, ‘It’s probably just delayed shock.’

With her eyes more accustomed to the darkness, she could make out that he was smiling down at her. She smiled back, not trusting herself to speak, and hoped that he understood what had passed between them. She was still shaking. He came to her again and, putting his arms around her shoulders, gently soothed her anxiety. If their first embrace had been heated, uncontrolled and passionate, this was measured and calculated – and just as welcome and meaningful.

Holding her to him, he said, ‘I need to break a Golden Rule.’

‘What’s that?’

‘The Golden Rule of never go back. I need to go back to the villa. I’ve got something there that I need, now.’

She didn’t ask him what it was. She didn’t try to persuade him otherwise. She didn’t worry or argue. Taking a last pull on her cigarette, she dropped it to grind out under her shoe.

‘Now?’ she asked.

‘Now would seem as good a time as any. I can drop you somewhere safe first, pick you up as soon as I’m done.’

‘No,’ she said, with a simple forcefulness. ‘We don’t have time. They might return when they realise that they’ve lost us. Besides, after tonight’s episode you might need me to get you through the gate.’ He hesitated long enough for her to add, ‘Let’s not waste time arguing about it. The answer will be the same, whatever you say to me.’ Without another word she got back into the car and started the engine. With little option, he climbed in beside her.

Heading back towards the villa, the atmosphere matched the turn of events of their evening. As they progressed in silence, it was now Sansom’s turn to fight the emotions and passion that she had awakened in him.

He could not deny that for the last couple of days her company and character had grown on him, but he had managed to quash any tendencies for involvement, reasoning that it was better to maintain his focus on what had become his life’s sole objective. He would let nothing and no one get in the way of that. Nevertheless, things would no longer be the same between them and, if he were honest with himself, perhaps he wouldn’t want them to be.

They arrived back at the seaside community by a different, rural route. They agreed that they should not risk trapping themselves inside the sealed compound and it was settled that Eda would park and wait with the car in a side road while he, following her directions, would work his way along the coastal path on foot and gain entry to the private housing area by way of the beach. It would be time-consuming but, short of driving up to the door and risking everything, neither could see an alternative in the immediacy and danger of the situation.

Before leaving, he reached for her hand, squeezed it firmly, let himself quietly out of the car and disappeared into the night. Within seconds, Eda felt as alone and afraid as she could ever remember. The darkness pushed in around her, crushing her spirit. She locked the doors, pressed herself down into the seat and, eyes fixed on where Sansom should emerge, began her waiting.

Following her instructions, he veered around the perimeter fencing of the community, through an ancient olive grove and clambered down the precarious rocky headland to the shoreline. A bright moon had ventured out from behind an earlier bank of cloud and illuminated his progress, for which he was at once grateful and wary.

With little difficulty, he clambered over the rugged terrain and paddled though the shallows. Within twenty minutes of leaving Eda, he was crouched behind cover, peering through the semi-darkness to scour the area around the villa.

Satisfied that nothing out of the ordinary lay waiting to ambush him, he tacked his way to the front door. Above the lapping of the gently-rolling Aegean behind him and the ubiquitous scratching of the cicadas, he strained his hearing for any signs of life within.

As sure as he could be that he was alone, he pushed open the front door, which had clearly already been forced. It swung back on gently-protesting hinges. Nothing exploded out of the dark interior at him. No warning voices called out. The sea and the insects continued their calling to each other. Steeling himself, he entered.

If he was expecting to see the place ransacked, he was disappointed. Nothing appeared out of place. Other than the forced door lock there was no sign that the unwelcome had paid a visit. Perhaps, he fleetingly considered, Eda and he had returned just as the intruders had made their move. He pushed from his mind the consequences that would have arisen had they returned ten minutes earlier.

Moving quickly now, seizing his advantage and opportunity, he darted about the house gathering up the things he had returned for. In the dimness, with the blood pounding in his ears, constantly checking over his shoulder, his reconnaissance took him longer than he would have liked.

In a long few minutes, he had what he had come for and was poised at the doorway to leave. Looking out, he still saw nothing to make him anxious and, pulling the door softly closed behind him, he disappeared into the night.

His return was more awkward. Encumbered by the holdall and with an upward journey, he took more than twenty minutes to find his way back to the car. Approaching the front of the vehicle, he waved his arms above his head, as they had agreed, to signal that it was him and there was no danger. Receiving no answering sign, he increased his pace, thinking that probably she had simply dozed off. He didn’t want to frighten her with his return.

Rounding the car to the driver’s side, he felt the crunch of fragments of glass under his feet. With a sickening lurch in his stomach, he edged closer, put his hand to where the window should have been, where Eda should have been waiting for him. She was gone.

Mosaic pieces of glass that had once been the driver’s window were sprayed across the interior. Her handbag lay on the back seat where she had thrown it after their restaurant meal – an aeon ago. The keys hung from the ignition, glinting in the moonlight with the gentle swaying movement that his intrusion had brought.

 

***

 

 

20

Detective Inspector Tallis was lying on his sun-lounger enjoying the firm kneading of an experienced woman’s touch as she worked fragrant oils into his back when the phone rang at his side. As he instinctively reached out to hook it from its cradle, the woman, the sun and the oils all melted away back into his subconscious, and he found himself spread-eagled on his front on the bed in his hotel room. With weary irritation, he lifted the receiver to his ear.

A woman’s voice said, ‘Mr Tallis?’ He encouraged her with a grunt. ‘Sorry to bother you, sir. There is a Mr Fallon at reception wishing to see you. He says it’s urgent.’ It took Tallis only a moment to realise that Sansom must be downstairs.

‘You’d better send him up,’ he said.

He hauled himself out of bed and went to the bathroom.

Answering the tap at the door, he was first surprised and then concerned to see only Sansom in the corridor. One look at the soldier’s face told him there was trouble. He ushered him in.

‘Where’s Eda?’

Dropping his holdall, Sansom slumped down into the single chair. ‘I don’t know.’

Tallis perched on the edge of his unmade bed and tried to hide the worry that he felt welling up inside him. ‘What do you mean?’

Sansom told him everything that had happened since they had dropped him off at the hotel earlier that evening and how, at the end of it, he had come back to the car to find the driver’s window smashed and Eda gone. As Sansom unravelled the story, Tallis’s spirits plummeted.

‘What could be so important that you had to go back there?’ he said. ‘You should have come straight here.’

‘Does that matter now?’

‘I suppose not,’ said Tallis, regretting his remark. He could see how troubled Sansom was. ‘Any other signs of a struggle?’

‘What more do you need? No, there was nothing else. They must have given up the chase and come back quicker than we anticipated. I can’t believe they have her.’

‘We don’t know that they do.’

‘It has to be Botha’s men. If it was the police, they’d have waited for me as well, wouldn’t they?’

Tallis had to concede that it was likely. ‘You still have the phone with you that you used to speak to Botha?’ he said. Sansom nodded. ‘Why haven’t they called you to let you know they have her – used the advantage in some way?’ As soon as the words were out of his mouth, his ageing, tired mind caught up with him. He could see that Sansom was distraught enough without adding to his misery by giving voice to every thought he had.

‘Perhaps they’re using some of their gentle persuasion to find out everything she knows,’ said Sansom.

‘Then we have to face the possibility that they’ll turn up here before too long,’ said Tallis, already rising and making for his clothes. ‘We can’t take the chance that they won’t. And we’d be no good to Eda then.’

Leaving the hotel but not checking out, they made their way to Eda’s car, which Sansom had driven up from Akyarlar, and left the area. Ten minutes later and a couple of streets away, they sat in a dimly-lit booth at the rear of an all-night kebab house, although neither was hungry. Instant coffee sat untouched between them next to Botha’s phone.

‘There’s no reason for them to hurt her,’ said Tallis, attempting to penetrate the soldier’s darkening mood.

‘There was no reason for them to kill all those people from The Rendezvous, but they did,’ said Sansom.

As much of an immediate concern for Tallis was Sansom’s obviously rapidly-deteriorating spirit. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘it will be no good for us, or Eda, if we lose our composure. We have to detach our emotions. We have to,’ he repeated more forcefully as Sansom looked about to argue with him. ‘Start thinking like the professional you once were or you might as well give her up now.’

Sansom said nothing, but Tallis detected a slight and encouraging alteration in his posture. Following his instinct, he pressed on. ‘We don’t know for sure that Botha has her, but I agree with you that if it were the police they’d have hung around for you, providing, of course, that they had known you were around to wait for. Something else: how would whoever has snatched her have known where to find her? About the villa?’

‘Maybe it wasn’t her that they came for. Perhaps it was me. What if some public-spirited resident at the villa community had seen my mugshot in the newspaper, made a phone call; some corrupt copper passes the information on to Botha for a few lira. They turn up looking for me and come away with second prize.’

They sat in their own thoughtful silences for a minute before Sansom said, ‘I’ll call them. I have their phone. I’ll offer myself in exchange for her. It’s me that they want.’

Time was not a luxury that the men had to play with. If Eda was in the hands of Botha’s men then the longer she stayed with them the greater the chances she would be hurt, or worse. This was clear to both men without being spoken.

‘I agree. It’s worth the phone call,’ said Tallis. ‘At least it might buy us some time.’

Sansom found the number in the phone’s memory and dialled. Studying him as he waited for the call to be answered, the DI saw clearly how deeply affected Sansom was by this turn of events. The guilt he was shouldering was etched into his features. His healthy aura of the day had been replaced by a drawn, shadowy look. Not for the first time in this whole horrible business, the DI, as he watched the anxiety tug at Sansom, felt acutely sad for the man. He’d lost everything in one fell swoop, been tortured with solitude, shot, set up, used. And now, just as something good had come into his life – Tallis was not a detective for nothing; he’d seen the chemistry bubbling between the pair – it was snatched from him.

As he sat staring at Sansom, waiting with him for the voice on the end of the phone, he had no doubt that Sansom would willingly trade himself for Eda, even if it meant losing his own life one way or another.

Tallis counted six rings before the service provider’s automated answer phone system cut in. Sansom terminated the call. He laid the phone on the table and ran his hands across his bristly scalp.

‘I could go to the local police,’ said Tallis. ‘They don’t have a beef with me.’

‘And say what?’ said Sansom. ‘That a woman you’ve been associating with who, incidentally, is wanted for questioning in connection with the assault or murder of a police officer in Istanbul, has been abducted by you-know-not-who? Providing you can find an English-speaking officer, that is, at this time of night. Sorry,’ he said. ‘I don’t think there’d be much point in it.’

‘Then there’s nothing else to do except wait for them to call,’ said the policeman. ‘That won’t be easy for either of us,’ he added. ‘In the meantime, we need to find ourselves somewhere to wait it out. I don’t think it would be wise for us to go back to my hotel.’

They agreed to take a room at a cheap hotel. While Sansom protested that he couldn’t think of sleep, the DI could see he was exhausted and that if they had to wait till the morning for news of Eda, they may just as well give themselves the opportunity for rest. Like the idea or not, they would almost certainly need it.

Close by, they found a small nondescript place that was able to offer them a twin room. Tallis arranged some cold drinks and a pocketful of coins for the air conditioning then, in miserable spirits, the pair resigned themselves to their mobile phone vigil.

 

*

 

The night dragged its heels. In the small hours, Sansom had needed almost physical restraint to prevent him from taking the car and randomly scouring the area in search of Eda. The futility of the idea could barely be impressed upon him, such was his desperate need to be doing something, anything. Tallis remained resolute and insistent that under the shroud of night they could do nothing but wait; wait for the phone call that would surely come. They would need patience in the game that Botha had imposed upon them if they were to stand a chance of holding on to their sanity, fighting back, and ultimately helping Eda.

In a bid to occupy and prepare Sansom, Tallis shared his thoughts regarding what he believed were Botha’s intentions. ‘We have to accept that he is in charge,’ he said, ‘for now. We need to assume that he is playing us quite deliberately at his game. If we don’t realise what he is trying to do we can’t deal with it and if we can’t deal with it we’re on our way to failing.’

‘What do you mean?’ said Sansom, grateful at least for distraction from the thoughts that were tormenting him.

‘We have to assume the worst: that Botha has snatched Eda. He knows how this will affect you; he doesn’t know about me, yet. He keeps you on tenterhooks all night. He doesn’t answer the phone. He doesn’t call. Why? You’ve already proved yourself to be a worthy adversary; you are responsible for the deaths of three of his men, and he knows that you have designs on him. If he intends to meet you, it will be to his great potential advantage to have you tired, emotionally strung out, less rational than you might otherwise be, less alert and, theoretically, disadvantaged and thereby less of a threat. Do you understand what I’m saying?’

Sansom nodded. ‘But why not take me last night? Why not neutralise me while they had the chance?’

‘Did they have the chance?’ said the DI. ‘Maybe they weren’t prepared for two of you, for the turn that last night’s events took. Remember that to them you have proved yourself a real threat, someone to be respected and reckoned with. I think it’s quite possible with the unexpected way things unfolded last night that they simply reacted and made it up as they went along.

‘Perhaps the men who took her were simply following instructions. When they called in that they had Eda, a sitting duck, well it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Didn’t you say yourself that this is what men like Botha understand, what they deal in – a certain kind of leverage?’

Sansom could only sit and accept what the experienced police officer, the voice of reason, was telling him. Tallis made to press home the point of his argument. ‘Now we have to use this knowledge to our benefit, even if that is only to understand the purpose behind it, so that we don’t succumb to it. Accept that there is nothing we can do for now; see the need to remain rational and objective, however else you feel, and try to get some rest.’

With his argument made Tallis, in a bid to seal it, lay on his bed and searched for sleep.

 

*

 

Eventually, the typical brilliant Bodrum summer morning arrived, from which neither man could derive any pleasure. They had slept fitfully, guiltily, Tallis finally succumbing to dozing on his bed while Sansom, physically unable to lie down under such circumstances, remained either in the room’s single armchair or pacing the tiny floor space. It had been as horrible as it could be. With daylight’s arrival there was at least the evidence of time passing. Other than that, there was little comfort to be gained from it.

The sunlight crept into the room through the flimsy curtains, edged across the stained carpet and, bathing his face in its heat and brightness, woke Sansom from his fragile upright sleep. Rubbing his tired eyes, he searched the room for Tallis. Running water indicated his location and a moment later he emerged from the bathroom.

‘Good,’ he said, as brightly as he could manage, ‘you’re awake. Freshen yourself up. I’ve got an idea.’

‘What’s that?’ said Sansom, stretching out the creases of his body.

‘I thought that we might take a drive out to Akyarlar, where Botha is supposed to be anchoring his yacht, see if he’s arrived. What do you say? We need some food as well and I need coffee.’

He began gathering together the few belongings that he’d brought from his hotel, showing Sansom by his actions, if not convincing him with his words, that with the break of day there were now things to do.

 

*

 

The men were both outside the room with their bags, the door shut behind them, before either noticed the police car parked near Eda’s car. Two uniformed officers were inspecting the broken window. As Sansom and Tallis looked on, one of them fished Eda’s handbag out of the back seat and began going through it.

‘Shit,’ said Sansom.

Under his breath, Tallis said, ‘It’s nothing to do with us. We’re just a pair of tourists leaving their room early. Come on.’ He began walking.

In order to leave, they would have to pass the policemen. Sansom dropped into step, leaving Tallis between him and them. As they approached, one of the policemen looked up, clearly interested in them, interested in any activity around a suspicious vehicle at such an early hour.

They were almost parallel with the scene when the older policeman called to them. Sansom noticed that his hand rested on his holster. Tallis stopped and treated the man to a large smile and, in overloud tones and with much apologetic gesturing, repeated the word English three times. The policeman, realising that this buffoon wouldn’t be of any assistance, dismissed them with a curt nod and turned back to something that his colleague had discovered in Eda’s bag. Tallis led them calmly away and around the corner.

‘Shit,’ said Sansom, again.

‘Can’t do anything about it now,’ said Tallis. ‘Just keep walking. Let’s put as much distance between us and them as we can, quickly.’

They marched along the pavement, crossed the still-quiet main highway and took a narrow turning. Moving a little quicker, just men in a hurry, not men fleeing the police, they cut down a few more quiet streets. Using the sun as their guide, they could be sure that they were continuing away from the hotel instead of walking around in circles.

Soon enough, they found themselves at the waterfront. Having run out of land, they shared a bench. Tallis was grateful to be able to catch his breath, sweating profusely even in the early morning.

‘Well,’ he said, trying not to sound as despondent as he was beginning to feel, ‘that certainly puts the mockers on our transport situation.’

He was suddenly afraid to look at Sansom. He didn’t want to see how the already-strung-out man would take this setback. He was aware of Sansom getting to his feet, pushing his holdall towards Tallis.

‘Look after this for me, would you?’

Tallis stared up at him. ‘Where are you going?

‘There’s a coffee shop around the corner. I’ll get us something. You look like you could do with a cold drink.’

Tallis dabbed at the sweat that was running down his temples. ‘A cold drink, something to eat and coffee with sugar if you’re offering,’ he said, trying to sound still positive. Tallis watched Sansom’s back as he strode away. He reflected that the soldier hadn’t appeared to take their transport problems too badly. A good sign. Perhaps he was getting through to the man.

As he sat on the bench staring out over the sea, he began seriously to consider how the lack of independent transport was going to affect them. Buses would be out of the question. Possibly they could enlist the services of some local cabby. Sansom had money to play with. It might do as an option, but it would be far from ideal, even without the language barrier.

Now that he was stationary and calmer, he found the early morning sun on his tired body wonderfully relaxing. He closed his eyes, tipped his floppy hat forward, listened to the sea as it gently lapped the stony shoreline, and, despite everything, or because of it, began to doze.

 

*

 

Tallis was startled from his drifting some minutes later by the blast of a car horn close behind him. Grinding his teeth at the interruption and cursing the inconsiderate behaviour of some idiot at this time of the morning, he turned to glare his disapproval at the driver. He was confronted with a big black vehicle, its windows tinted so that he was unable to see the person inside. Typical, he thought, turning back to the view, all the bloody promenade to pull up to and that fool had to park behind me.

‘Are you coming or not?’ called Sansom. ‘Your breakfast is getting cold.’

Tallis swung around to see that the tinted window had now been lowered and Sansom was grinning out at him from the driver’s seat. Speechless, which Sansom seemed to enjoy, Tallis closed the mouth that he realised was hanging open in some attempt to form a question, gathered up the bags and made his way over. Throwing the bags into the rear of the vehicle, he climbed in.

The air conditioning bathed his sweating body with its welcome cooling effects; the aroma of warm pastry and hot coffee assailed his senses; the luxurious comfort of the leather upholstery relaxed his weary frame. For a moment he gave himself up to the pleasure of it.

He said, ‘Do I want to know where you got this from?’

‘Relax. I’ve not stolen it if that’s what’s worrying you. It’s borrowed.’ To Tallis’s disbelieving expression, he added, ‘It’s the vehicle I drove from Istanbul. I’d parked it up in an underground car park. You never know when you’re going to need transport. No one is going to be looking for this in Bodrum. We’ll just pass for wealthy Istanbul holiday makers.’

‘And what if one of the opposition should recognise it?’ said Tallis.

‘Let’s worry about that if and when, shall we?’

With that, Sansom engaged the drive and accelerated away to the voice of the satellite navigation system directing him to take the next left for Akyarlar.

 

***

 

 

21

As they made their way along the still-largely-deserted Bodrum roads in the luxurious Audi, Tallis relaxed a little, losing his initial concerns at riding around in one of Botha’s vehicles. The pastry and drinks felt good inside him, the air conditioning felt good to his outside.

Sansom had clearly enjoyed springing his surprise, which seemed to buoy him temporarily, but had sunk once again into a mood of silent preoccupation. As well as the regret and anger that he was clearly feeling at the loss of Eda, he also seemed to be experiencing intense guilt for what had happened to her. In reality, he had nothing to reproach himself for; that was for the people who took her.

Without conversation, Tallis filled the void by considering what they would do when they arrived at Akyarlar. Now they were almost there, he felt a nagging twinge of regret and apprehension at suggesting the excursion.

At the time, it had seemed like a good idea, like most that turned out to be bad ones. Sansom clearly needed to be involved in something. Tallis couldn’t imagine the two of them being cooped up in the sweat-box of a hotel room waiting and waiting for a phone call that might never come. However, now he had new worries: what might Sansom be tempted to do should they arrive at Akyarlar and identify Botha’s yacht in the little harbour?

The voice of the satellite navigation system instructed them to take the next left on to the coastal road that Tallis recognised would see them in Akyarlar within a few minutes.

He cleared his throat. ‘It’s risky for us to come to this place at all. We shouldn’t hang around for long,’ he said. ‘We should just look, make sure he’s here and then leave. We’ll be far more recognisable in this vehicle than we would have been in Eda’s. Besides, we’ve got the possible meeting places to find, remember, to keep an eye on, as we agreed. See if they come to check them out.’

Sansom motored on in quiet contemplation before saying, ‘You don’t really think he’ll still be prepared to meet, do you? Not if he’s got Eda. No need. He can call the shots exactly as and when he likes.’

‘We still don’t know for sure that he has got Eda. Of course, it’s possible, likely even, but we don’t know. And until we do, I say we should continue with our original plan.’

Sansom exhaled a lengthy sigh as though the whole weakness of their position had struck him afresh.

‘If you’re worried about me going in like a bull in a china shop,’ he said, after another mile, ‘don’t be.’ He smiled across at Tallis. ‘You’re right, until we know for sure that he has Eda and whether she’s alive and unharmed, we should exercise caution. I heard what you said last night about the game he’s making for us. I understand and I’m listening to you.’

Tallis was pleased to hear this. Sansom’s manner had suggested anything but what he was now saying. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘In the long run, it’s how we will best find and help Eda.’

Before he could add anything else, they rounded the curve of the road that brought them within sight of the small, remote seaside settlement. Conversation dried up as they both switched their attention to the water far below them.

Sansom brought the vehicle to a halt where the minibus had deposited Tallis less than forty-eight hours previously. Staying in the vehicle, Sansom let the window down. A blast of warm air surged in, swamping the efforts of the air conditioning. Taking the binoculars that Tallis offered him, he swept the bay, first one way then the other, lingering over the few bigger craft.

‘It’s not there,’ he said, finally.

‘You’re sure?’ said Tallis.

‘Look for yourself,’ said Sansom, He handed the glasses back but Tallis made no move to take him up on the offer.

‘Perhaps he’s in one of the smaller coves around here,’ he said. ‘There are enough of them.’

‘Perhaps he’s just not arrived yet,’ said Sansom. He appeared more puzzled than disappointed, observed the policeman. ‘Only one way to find out.’ They pulled away in a cloud of dust.

The pair spent the next half an hour checking on neighbouring coves within a reasonable distance east and west of Akyarlar. A few craft were anchored in these, but not the one they were searching for.

‘Of course,’ said Tallis, trying once again to remain positive despite the disappointment of not locating Botha, ‘it could just be that our Mr Botha has found himself somewhere much safer to moor his craft, knowing that there is some crazed assassin out to settle a score with him.’

Sansom didn’t feel moved to comment.

 

*

 

As the time approached mid-morning, they agreed to give it up. Tallis reminded Sansom that the possible meeting places Eda had suggested would probably start opening for business late morning in time for any lunchtime trade. Sansom repeated his doubt that Botha would bother sending anyone to look at the places now that he had Eda. But Tallis was adamant that they should be thorough and stick to the plan they had agreed, even though now they would be able to watch only two of the establishments instead of the three suggested.

Tallis reasoned that while there was a chance, no matter how slight, that Botha’s men would turn up at one of the meeting places to check it out, then they should do their best keep themselves informed. He also argued that if no one fitting the description of Botha’s men showed for inspection visits, this would tell them just as much.

Although Sansom struggled to see how no one showing for an inspection could help them, he kept quiet. In any case, they had nothing else to occupy them. Again, Sansom seemed to have submitted completely to the policeman’s will. After finding somewhere to refuel the car, he allowed the navigation system to guide them back to Bodrum and the addresses that Eda had suggested.

Two of the restaurants were on the same exclusive and expensive stretch of beachfront, within a hundred yards of each other. The third was some minutes’ drive out into the country.

The men, reluctant to split up for logistical reasons, agreed that with just the two of them they would take a position midway between the two seaside restaurants and do their waiting there. Sansom once again expressed his feelings of negativity regarding the chances of Tallis’s policeman’s hunch bearing any fruit. But with little else to do in the waiting game that they were involved in, he played along.

They found a sheltered side street to suit their task. A corridor of closely-planted palms provided them with a shaded and shadowy avenue from where they could keep a watch on both establishments with the binoculars.

With the Audi parked, Tallis, as the unknown, went for a look around the places and to get them some food and drinks to sustain them throughout their waiting. Sansom, binoculars on his lap, settled back in the leather seat, adjusted the air conditioning and began to wonder what he should be looking for in any visitors that arrived at the places to mark them out as Botha’s representatives.

Sansom had been sitting for about thirty minutes compiling his mental list of criteria that could possibly mark out visitors to either venue as someone reconnoitring a place for a future meeting when they arrived, ticking all of his boxes.

The big black Audi, a twin of the one he was sitting in, swept around the far curve in the road, made its way slowly to the nearest restaurant and pulled into the otherwise-deserted front parking area.

Two men stepped out of the vehicle and from behind dark glasses spent a long minute casually surveying the surrounding area. They were dressed in identical suits, the same suits as those worn by the men who had come to Eda’s apartment.

Sansom shrank back into his seat as he berated himself for not taking Tallis more seriously. It was a mistake he promised himself not to make again. He was grateful that Tallis had insisted that he park in such a position that a car in front of him blocked the casual view of a passer-by. If the men who were now looking in his direction were to recognise the Audi, make out the number plates, he would certainly be compromised.

He watched as the pair walked into the place closest to him. His heart was thumping, not just with the proximity of enemies but also the realisation that he had people in front of him who may have taken Eda, who might know where she was.

Once more the anger welled up inside him, threatening to push him into a situation that could both ruin his chances of recovering Eda and keeping his liberty, perhaps even his life. He forced himself to adopt Tallis’s tactics, even though a primitive voice from deep within him was denigrating him for a coward, urging him to have at them and fuck the consequences.

He held on, knowing that he was doing the right thing. He eased his breathing, rummaged under the seat for the comforting feel of the pistol he had hidden there and bored his gaze into the scene ahead of him, wondering where the hell Tallis was.

Two minutes later, that felt like ten, the pair emerged and got back into the vehicle. He watched as they pulled out of the forecourt and accelerated hard, back the way they had come. He was about to believe that was that when they veered off the road to pull into the forecourt of the second restaurant. Now there could be no doubt that they were preparing for a meeting.

He watched as they went inside, waited as they did their inspection, and watched again as they came out into the glaring sunlight, re-entered the vehicle and left.

Sansom relaxed his rigid frame. Within a minute, the ambling figure of Tallis came into view and headed along the far pavement towards him. He was clutching a supermarket carrier bag to his middle as one would if the handles had failed. Sansom mused that he had been right again and that one certainly should not judge a book by its cover.

‘You missed them,’ he said, as Tallis collapsed into the front seat.

The policeman turned to Sansom and the look he gave conveyed to Sansom that he hadn’t. It also held an element of ‘I told you so’ about it, although the DI didn’t actually form those words. Sansom’s respect for the man was growing by the hour.

‘So, we know that they are still interested in a meeting with us,’ said Tallis, busy unscrewing the cap from a bottle of water. He gulped at the contents, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘I’m not so sure it was them that snatched Eda,’ he said. ‘I agree with what you said earlier, if they do have Eda then they have no need to go through all this rigmarole. They simply dictate their terms to you over the phone.’ He drummed his fingers on his knee and stared thoughtfully through the windscreen.

‘Then it must have been the police,’ said Sansom. He felt a relief seeping through him at the prospect. While the police were clearly going to mean trouble enough for Eda in view of what she had done, it was a far better prospect than being taken by Botha’s lawless men. ‘She is well connected,’ he said, ‘has good legal representation. They might be able to arrest her and detain her, but they can’t physically harm her.’

Tallis could see that Sansom wanted desperately to believe what he was saying and was not about to disabuse him of the possibility or dent his new mood by raising doubts or further concerns. He decided to keep his own concerns to himself until he could think things through. He needed Sansom positive and focussed.

With time on their hands now before the hour at which Sansom was to call back to Botha, they agreed to forgo the delights that Tallis had purchased for them from the supermarket in favour of something more appetising and substantial. With notably improved spirits, Sansom suggested that they find somewhere they could both eat and rest well. After the night they had both had and the possible night to come, Tallis was happy to concur.

They agreed that they must continue to exercise caution. While the newspapers almost certainly no longer carried the artist’s impression of the wanted man, and his recent drastic haircut would make him far less recognisable than he had been, it wasn’t worth being careless.

They found a quiet eatery off the main tourist beat and ate well. Seemingly convinced that Eda was now not in any physical danger, Sansom’s appetite returned with a vengeance, while Tallis rarely passed up an opportunity to eat.

They drove back to the underground garage that Sansom had patronised when he first arrived in Bodrum. After parking the Audi, they found a large and busy hotel close by. Tallis took a room with twin beds while Sansom waited for him in the bar. It was a simple task for Tallis to let Sansom know his floor and room and, after a suitable interval had elapsed, the younger man slipped past the reception desk and took the stairs to join him.

Less than three hours after they had seen Botha’s men on the Bodrum seafront both men were asleep in the coolness of the air-conditioned hotel room.

 

*

 

A sense of déjà vu floated into Tallis’s waking consciousness as he became aware of the monotonous ringing of a telephone bringing him out of his slumber. Scrabbling it up, he was informed by the too-cheery young lady on the reception desk that the time he had requested for his wake-up call had arrived. It was five-thirty. Thanking her as sincerely as he could manage, he hung up and sat up, not trusting himself to close his eyes again. He was aware of Sansom’s similar movement behind him.

‘Five-thirty,’ said Tallis. ‘We’d better wake ourselves up.’

They filled the next twenty-five minutes by freshening up, making coffee and discussing the phone call to come. The all-too-familiar feelings of anxiety and apprehension were reawakened in both men. As before, Tallis outwardly managed his emotions better than Sansom, who needed to pace and fidget to release the tension in him.

The thirty minutes passed quickly and at the appointed hour Sansom dialled. The call was answered promptly.

‘Mr Sansom, I presume,’ said the gravelly tones that Sansom recognised as Botha’s.

Sansom shot a look at Tallis before acknowledging the man on the end of the line.

‘I’ll be at the Flamingo between nine and ten this evening. It’ll be your one opportunity to talk to me.’

‘I’ll be there,’ said Sansom. The line went dead. He laid the phone gently on to the counter, his mind racing.

‘What is it?’ said Tallis, recognising that Sansom was looking a lot less happy than he should have been.

‘He knows my name,’ said the soldier. ‘They’ve got Eda.’

 

***

 

 

22

The men sat in another oppressive silence. Though he racked his brain desperately for an explanation, no matter how tenuous, Tallis was unable to think of another credible reason for Botha having Sansom’s name. He checked the time. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘we’re leaving.’

Sansom looked up at him, still numbed from his realisation. ‘Where to?’

‘We’ve got three hours before he’s expecting us. I want to try to find that yacht.’

‘What? What’s the point of that? We drove all over the coast just this morning if you remember and it wasn’t anywhere.’ He stood – rattled and angry.

‘Exactly,’ said Tallis. ‘I don’t think that we need to go that far?’

‘Explain.’

‘The direction they came from this morning to the restaurants, the road that they came in on, it wasn’t from Akyarlar way. It was the road from Bodrum town. My money is on them being moored in the marina.’

‘And if you’re wrong?’ said Sansom.

‘When have you ever known me be wrong?’ replied the policeman, with a wry smile.

‘And if we find it?’ said Sansom.

‘When we find it,’ said Tallis, picking up the binoculars, ‘you will make sure that I get to the restaurant on time to meet Botha, as planned, then you’ll go back to that yacht and find Eda.’

Now Sansom was grinning back. At last, the prospect of some action to engage himself in. He’d tired of sitting around, scurrying about, the interminable waiting. Finally, he could look forward to doing something. And if one or two of them got in his way, so much the better. He was in the mood for it.

They left the hotel separately, with Sansom, at Tallis’s insistence, wearing the floppy hat that would plunge most of his face into shadow. Dusk was imminent, which could only benefit them as they walked the few streets from the hotel to the Bodrum marina.

The marina was busy with tourists and local foot traffic; the promise of another balmy evening tempting the people out to eat, drink and be merry, soaking up the holiday atmosphere.

As a pair looking rather like a father and son out for a stroll, they began a slow tour around the marina, using the floating walkways that Sansom had trod just a couple of days before. Pennants fluttered among the forest of masts in the gentle warm breeze. A myriad of craft, sailing and motor-powered, nestled cheek by jowl, squeezed in like sardines, their rigging gently pinging against the metal work – millions upon millions of pounds worth of ocean-going hardware.

There was nothing resembling the craft they were looking for. And then Sansom remembered the area of the marina below the ancient city walls where he had seen the twin of The Rendezvous and other larger craft. He told Tallis of his previous experience there and suggested they should investigate.

Tallis was willing to see the craft, seemingly oblivious to Sansom’s feelings for such a memory. But it was not to be. It was not at the mooring that Sansom remembered. In its place, a modern high-powered sleek craft gently rocked. Sansom felt spared and grateful. However, there was no sign of Botha’s yacht either. They came to the outer edges of the gently-bobbing flotilla, where the sea stretched uninterrupted away to the Greek island of Kos. Tallis followed Sansom up narrow steep stone steps to a surviving part of the original historic quay fortifications. Both were, once again, in dampened spirits.

A step from the top, Sansom hesitated, putting out his hand behind him as a warning gesture. As Tallis followed him up and over the rampart, he saw what had taken Sansom’s attention. A large dark Audi, exactly like the one Botha’s men had used that morning, was parked in the security-monitored and obviously exclusive marina car park. A large man in a suit leaned idly against it, smoking. He didn’t appear to pay them any attention.

They walked calmly away until they were a good distance from, and out of view of, the car park.

Tallis was frowning. ‘It might not be Botha’s.’

‘We’ll soon find out,’ said Sansom. He gestured for the binoculars. The evening had progressed enough to make the boats anchored in the bay difficult to identify. It was impossible in the lack of light to read any of their names. Sansom took his time studying them one by one. He lingered particularly over something a few hundred yards out. Finally, he said, ‘It’s there.’ He pointed out the craft and handed the glasses to Tallis. He looked, but could not be anything like certain that it was Botha’s yacht from the image that Eda had provided.

‘How can you be sure?’ he said. ‘I can barely make it out.’

‘I’m not one-hundred-percent. But the lines of the bow and the stern are very similar to the yacht I saw in Istanbul moored at his estate and the photograph Eda provided. In answer to Tallis’s dubious look, he said. ‘I know boats.’

‘All right,’ said the policeman, ‘let’s say that it is. It’s no good to us moored out there.’

‘It’s anchored,’ said Sansom. ‘Craft are moored when they are fixed to something permanent. And it’s not a problem being where it is. Maybe it’s even to our advantage. If they were actually moored in the marina they would probably be far more vigilant on board. Out there they must feel safer, isolated, think that they can see any approach much easier.’

‘Well that makes sense because they can,’ said Tallis.

‘Not if the approach is made by a swimmer who knows how to get in close without being seen.’ Sansom smiled for the second time in an hour, something of a rarity, thought Tallis. However, this time there was a barely-concealed malevolence behind its thinness.

He tapped his fingers on the railing for a few seconds, thinking. ‘OK. Let’s assume that it’s Botha’s yacht, but I don’t like not being sure.’

‘I’m sure,’ said the soldier.

‘Do you have both phones on you?’ said Tallis. Sansom retrieved them from his pockets. ‘Let me have one. I can get a taxi to the Flamingo. It’ll be safer not to have you anywhere near the place. You stay here, keep an eye on things. If it is Botha’s yacht and if it is his car waiting there, then you’ll see him – although that’s still two too many ifs for my liking.’

‘I have no doubts,’ said Sansom. He handed over the phone he had taken from the dead man in Eda’s flat. They stored the number of his other phone in it.

It was still two hours before the earliest time that Botha would arrive at the restaurant and so the men went to a nearby cafe to go over every eventuality that their separate evenings could throw up.

Sansom appeared confident that he would have no problem getting out to the yacht undetected. Getting away from it could be more problematic, depending on what he encountered aboard.

He had identified a small transport boat, probably used to ferry people to and from the vessel, tied up against the hull of it, which he could use. They could know nothing of what awaited Sansom on the yacht should he be able to get on board undetected; what he would come up against; what he would have to do between boarding and leaving it, and Tallis could only try to impress upon the soldier the need for caution and restraint. He didn’t want to be part of any bloodbath and the prospect of violence was anathema to him.

After they had talked around it for some minutes, Sansom said, ‘Of course, you know that as soon as they realise they have a problem on board, they’re going to call Botha. That could put you in a very awkward position.’

The look that Tallis adopted let Sansom know that this was not something that hadn’t already occurred to him. ‘Firstly, for Eda’s sake, we don’t have much choice, do we?’ he said. ‘Secondly, like you, I want to talk to Botha face to face. I want to hear what he has to say if I can get him to talk. Thirdly, you’ll just have to try to buy me as much time as you can. We’re meeting in a very public place. That will be to my advantage as well as his. I’ll take full responsibility for what happens to me.’

Their meeting adopted a certain gravity when both men appeared to comprehend what lay ahead for themselves and each other. Both were about to put themselves in great potential danger, both were going out to find answers that couldn’t have been more important to either.

With an hour to go and nothing new to say to each other, they agreed to part company, give themselves a chance to focus completely on what each had to do in the remainder of the night.

As they stood outside the cafe they seemed to register each other in a new way, with a new respect for each other’s courage, but it was based on more than that: they had come to like each other over the few long days they had spent together. Tallis wanted to tell Sansom to take care; to make sure above all else that he came back safely and to bring Eda with him. Sansom felt an urge to say something personal to the older man, to thank him for what he’d done to help so far, but it didn’t happen. Such platitudes would have lent the parting an air of finality for their relationship that neither would want to admit was a possibility.

Nevertheless, the importance of what each was about to engage in, to risk, was lost on neither. Tallis offered his hand and they exchanged a firm and genuinely-warm handshake. It was enough. The arrangement had been made that Sansom would inform Tallis by phone when Botha left the marina, as they had to assume he would. And after that they agreed they would maintain a silence between them until either they met back at their last hotel or circumstances dictated that communication was essential.

Heading off in opposite directions, Tallis turned to look at Sansom’s retreating back, suddenly acutely aware that if things went badly for him, as they well could, it could be the last time he ever saw the young man.

It was a thought that made the stomach of the hardened policeman lurch. But there was nothing to be done about it now except trust to their instincts and skills and a good dollop of good fortune. They were, he admitted to himself, in very deep, uncharted waters.

Almost sorrowfully, he turned back to the direction he must take and with a physical effort attempted to put all the sentimentality out of his mind in order to be able to focus his thoughts on his own pending fateful meeting.

Sansom didn’t look back. Clutching the binoculars, he mingled in with the crowds, feeling satisfyingly anonymous beneath the floppy hat. He had things to collect, preparations to make and time was not on his side.

He strode quickly through the busy streets until he arrived at the underground car park. Identifying himself, he made his way to the Audi. From the luggage compartment he took a thin jacket. This was not to protect him against any evening chill but to conceal the weapon that he took from under the seat. He fixed the silencer he had taken from one of the guns in Eda’s flat – grateful once again that all Botha’s men appeared to be using the same weapons – and, satisfied, wrapped it in the jacket.

Within twenty minutes he was back at the quayside. The Audi, complete with driver, was still there. Sansom made his way around the town’s old defences and down on to the stony beach that would in daylight hours be packed with sun-worshippers. He was relieved to see that there were still a few people swimming in the sea, their clothes and bags scattered among the rows of now-mostly-vacant sun-loungers. Behind him across the other side of the pedestrian walkway several bars were pumping out music to tempt in the early crowd. He suffered an involuntary shiver as he remembered his encounter with the woman in one of them.

From his position, he was able to see the yacht he had identified as Botha’s. The small white craft was still tied up alongside. The yacht was well lit.

He calculated how long it would take him to swim out to it, then to get himself on board unnoticed, to do whatever he had to do once there, get himself and Eda away, and then alert Tallis before the yacht’s crew got through to Botha.

Comparing his loose timings with how long he would expect Botha and his men to be absent if all they were doing on land was keeping the appointment at the Flamingo became a muddle in his head. Too many permutations existed for anything like accuracy. He realised that he had to just concentrate on his part of the evening and trust that Tallis could delay Botha long enough for him to do what he had to do.

Grateful that he’d kept the binoculars, he trained them now on the sea. He didn’t have to wait long before he saw a gap begin to open up between the yacht and its little transport as it sped towards the land. He couldn’t see how many people were in the smaller craft and from his position he would only be able to make out anyone as they made their way up the stone steps that he and Tallis had trod a little while ago, and where they would be silhouetted against the darkening sky.

It was less than ideal. He could move forward and try to put himself in a better position for identification but that would risk him being seen – and in any case it occurred to him that he didn’t know what Botha looked like in the flesh. He became aware of the increased activity of his heart as the adrenalin began to flow.

The boat with the outboards closed on the marina. Sansom could see now that it wasn’t so little, more of a medium-sized speedboat. That told him instantly that the yacht he was about to swim out to was that much bigger than he remembered.

He took the phone from his pocket and prepared to call Tallis as the boat was lost to his sight behind the marina opening and the hundreds of craft moored up in it. He waited, counting off the seconds, eyes fixed on the stone steps that were quickly vanishing into the darkness.

And then he saw them – or who he believed must be Botha and his entourage – making their way up the ancient stairway. He called Tallis. It was answered quickly.

‘Are you there?’

‘I am,’ replied Tallis. His voice was calm and measured and just what Sansom needed to hear.

‘A boat left the yacht about five minutes ago. Now a party of men are making their way up the stone stairs. I can’t make them out from where I am in any detail. There are four of them. One of them is huge. It must be them.’

The possibility that he was so close to the man who in his heart Sansom knew was responsible for all his losses, close enough to walk up to him and slot him, momentarily overtook Sansom. He became aware of a voice in his ear.

‘Acer, Acer. Are you still there?’

‘Yes, I’m here. Just checking on them. I’m on the beach. I can’t see the car from here. They’re above me, but it must be them and they must be leaving the car park now.’

‘All right,’ said Tallis, and then he added, ‘Take care of yourself, son. I don’t want to lose you. Remember, I need you in court in England.’

The soldier appreciated the intention of Tallis to lighten his mood a touch. ‘You too, old man. We’ll see you later.’ He hung up, checked his watch, set the chronograph in motion and began stripping down to his shorts.

Tallis gently closed the phone. So, Botha was coming. The policeman would have struggled even to have given an approximate figure on the number of interviews he had been involved in over the years of his career. Some had been high profile investigations, yet none had mattered more to him personally than the one in prospect.

After leaving Sansom, Tallis had returned to his original hotel, changed into something more formal, despite the heat, and taken a taxi to the restaurant. He sat in the Flamingo at a table for two facing the door. He was not in the least bit hungry, but for appearances’ sake had ordered something light, which he was now pushing around the plate. Botha was on his way for the meeting that Tallis had anticipated ever since learning the man’s name from the information gifted to him by Captain Harris. He took another sip of his water and waited the last few minutes.

 

*

 

Sansom was down to his shorts when the phone rang. Expecting to hear Tallis give him some last minute advice, he answered quickly.

‘Did you miss me?’ said Smith.

‘I can’t talk now,’ said Sansom. And then Eda’s and Tallis’s theories about his sponsor came back to him. ‘I’ve got a meeting with Botha tonight. I’m just on my way out now.’

Smith’s reply was icy when, after the merest hesitation, it came. ‘You’re doing what?’

‘I made contact. He wants to talk. I told him why I’m here, who sent me. He says that he has information for me that might make me re-think my position. Any idea what he could be hinting at?’

‘Listen to me. You’re there to do a job. That job is quite simple. You’re being funded to dispatch him, not talk to him over a cup of tea. Do I need to remind you what he is responsible for? What’s the matter with you? Lost your nerve?’

‘I’d be a fool not to listen to him.’

‘You’ll be a fool if you do.’

‘You wouldn’t have something to hide, would you, Smith?’

‘Whatever gives you that idea?’ said Smith, a note of caution in his tone.

‘Something I saw in the news about a journalist: Hatcher, I think his name was.’

‘You silly boy.’

‘You set me up. Why?’

‘Insurance.’

‘How do you think that makes me feel?’

‘I don’t give a fuck how you feel. Your feelings matter absolutely nothing to me,’ exploded Smith. ‘You’re a soldier. Get the job done. Come back and we can sort it all out.’

‘You’ll be seeing me again, don’t worry about that.’ Sansom closed the phone, knowing that once he had finished his business in Turkey he would have business in Britain.

Darkness was now almost fully descended. The water was colder for it but the extra cover it afforded him was worth the discomfort. He had wondered whether to wait to see if the speedboat would return immediately to the yacht, but decided that he could do that just as well during a leisurely crawl by a round-about route out to the craft.

He bundled his few clothes around the binoculars and stuffed them under one of the sun-loungers. The phone he placed in a sock and buried in a shallow shingle grave. Shirt and shoes he could replace, the phone he couldn’t. With no one appearing to be paying him any attention, he wrapped the silenced pistol in his thin T-shirt and then inside two plastic bags. He then used his belt to strap the package tightly to his shoulders. It might not stop it from getting wet, but it should prevent it from becoming waterlogged. That done, he slipped into the sea.

Any other time it might have taken his breath away, but with his concentration fully on his mission he barely registered the change in temperature. Slowly and watchfully, he began his measured pace towards the Stella. When his position allowed it, he turned back to the shore, trod water and searched out the entrance to the marina. There was no sign of the smaller boat returning. So much the better. That would be one less to deal with.

 

*

 

The time dragged around to a little after nine. The restaurant was still less than half full. Tallis was experiencing speculative looks from the waiting staff. He’d been in there for three-quarters of an hour and had barely touched his food. A waiter approached his table and asked him if everything was all right with his meal. He was in the middle of explaining that everything was fine and that he was simply a slow eater when he caught sight of a tall fit-looking suited man enter and stand surveying the room. Apparently seeing nothing that interested him, he turned and left.

A minute later he was back. Behind him came another two men. Both were casually dressed. One was huge, tall and broad, tough and strong-looking – and coal black. The other was white, older, fatter, smaller, but there was no doubting who was in charge.

The suit took up a position just inside the doorway where he could see and be seen by the men he had escorted in. The other two made their way to a table away from the others and a reserved plate was removed from it by the maître d’ bobbing in attendance.

The black man waved the maître d’ away and pulled out the chair for his boss to sit down. They both cast inquisitive looks around the room. After a minute, they began to talk in low murmurs.

A waiter approached, menus clutched to his body. A few feet from the table, the black man stopped him with a raised index finger. He said something and the waiter bowed slightly then hurried away. He was back in a moment, much quicker than Tallis had been waited on, with a tray on which sat an expensive-looking bottle of water and two glasses.

Through this, Tallis had bided his time, understanding restaurant protocol must be observed. Finally, satisfied that his targets were comfortable and that they would be without further interruption, he took a small sip of his drink, a deep breath, stood slowly, straightened his tie, and began crossing the room to the two men he hoped were Botha and his right-hand man.

 

*

 

It was almost as dark as it was going to get by the time Sansom was as far out as the yacht. His circuitous route had allowed him to study the yacht from all sides. He experienced relief with the confirmation on the stern that it was indeed the Stella. There had been no sign of the speedboat returning to the mother ship, although that didn’t mean that it wouldn’t.

He trod water out of the light that the yacht was shedding on to the sea immediately surrounding it. The side of the yacht was high out of the water and he could see only one way to get aboard: a small lowered platform at the stern. Sloppy, he thought. It should have been raised. Perhaps they were expecting a quick return. Peering across the short stretch of water between him and it, he could see no activity, no one guarding the access point. But he couldn’t be sure.

With the minimum of noise, he swam in until he was immediately beneath the grating of the metal landing platform. Balancing on submerged metalwork, he removed the T-shirt from the carrier bag and then the gun from the clothes. It was drier than he could have hoped for; its action was not a concern for him. He slipped the dark T-shirt on, discarded the plastic bag and manoeuvred himself to the little platform. While his hands felt out the surfaces and holds, his eyes and ears were trained on the deck.

In the moments when he was at his most vulnerable, he climbed the few aluminium steps, got both feet on the deck and moved across the exposed area to the shadow of the cabin walls. If anyone should come across his trail of water then he was sure that the alarm would be raised.

His back up against the metalwork, he strained his ears again above the blood pumping in them for the sound of an alert. Satisfied that he was so far, so good, he eased off the safety catch and began to edge his way along the narrow outside walkway.

Above him the upper levels of the yacht projected out to form an overhang beneath which he was plunged into deep shadow. He guessed that above him would be any crew and the bridge of the vessel.

As he inched along, curtained portholes filtered dull yellow light out into the night. He moved forwards until he found one that was not obscured. He risked a look in. Inside was a luxury saloon area. It was large, opulent and well lit.

Sprawling across the furniture were a woman and four children, their attention fixed on a huge television screen. There was no sign of anyone else, but of course they would be around somewhere.

He checked his watch and tried to work out how much time he would have left before Botha would return, but immediately realised the pointlessness of such an activity and that he was wasting the valuable minutes that he had.

Using the view through the porthole, he located the doorway from the deck to the saloon in the wall forward and at ninety degrees to his position. He braced himself for his next move, mentally as much as physically.

What he was about to do was not something that he was going to enjoy, but it was a dirty business all round and he would rationalize to anyone that his ends would justify ugly means.

Stooping again below the level of the portholes, he crept forward along the wall towards the saloon entrance. He heard the man before he saw him, engaged in animated conversation. Sansom supposed that there must be two of them, but listening for a moment it became clear that whoever was around the corner was on the phone to someone ashore.

Take-away food was being discussed in heavily-accented South African English, and Sansom understood that whoever was left with the speedboat in Bodrum was also responsible for bringing back dinner and he was taking his time.

Listening for a minute longer, Sansom understood that the man on land was currently enjoying a drink in a bar. The man on guard exchanged certain oaths with his colleague and hung up.

Crouching low, Sansom risked peering around the angle. He saw the suited guard settling himself into a deckchair and wrestling with a broadsheet newspaper – not an ideal defensive position to be caught in.

He retreated, got to his feet and, with the gun extended in front of him, stepped out of the shadows. The man saw him and froze. Fear and indecision caught his face. Sansom was pleased. If the man had gone for a weapon, he would have had no option but to shoot him. And he had promised Tallis restraint.

‘I can see that you know who I am,’ said Sansom, pushing hushed tones through his dry throat, ‘which is good, because you know that I’ll kill you if you give me any reason to.’ The man’s eyes were wide with terror. Sansom pointed the pistol at his knee. He said, ‘You decide. Do I need to shoot out your kneecap or are you going to do what you’re told?’

The man emitted a small frightened sound and moved his head vigorously first up and down and then from side to side.

‘In my head,’ continued Sansom, in his low murmur, ‘I’m going to count down from ten to zero. If your weapon isn’t on the floor, if you’re not on your knees with your hands behind your head next to it by the time I finish, you’ll limp the rest of your life. Ten’.

The man dropped the newspaper and slowly reached inside his jacket pocket. He removed a pistol and dropped it on to the deck. With deliberate slow movements, he eased himself out of the chair and, with his back to Sansom, sank to his knees, simultaneously putting his hands behind his head.

Sansom scanned the area before moving forward. He took up the gun and stuck it down the back of his shorts. He then picked up the newspaper and folded it over his own weapon. At barely more than a whisper he said, ‘Where’s the girl?’

‘Not here. Ashore somewhere.’

A failure-inspired desperate rage welled up in the soldier. He jammed the silencer into the neck of the kneeling man and grabbed a handful of his hair. ‘Where?’

‘I don’t know, I don’t know. I swear. I never go ashore.’

The body in front of him was little more than a youth, he realised, who should never have been there. ‘Get up,’ he hissed. ‘We’re going inside.’

Sansom felt him shaking as he gave him a nudge and he understood that this adolescent had no experience and no stomach for his position. They moved to the door, opened it and crossed the raised threshold.

‘Put your hands down by your side,’ Sansom told him.

Only the woman turned to see who had entered. The children’s attention, those who didn’t appear to be asleep, remained fixed on the screen. Their ages ranged through the primary school years, guessed Sansom, as he took in the scene. The woman’s eyes went suddenly wide and Sansom put his finger to his lips and gave her a look at the pistol beneath the newspaper. He beckoned her over with a flick of his head. She hesitated and he shifted his gaze to let her see him take in the children. He saw then a defiance flare in her eyes, but she began to ease herself out from under a sleeping baby girl.

Sansom whispered into the young man’s ear, ‘Soon, you’re going to start wondering if you can take me, try something while I’m talking to the woman. You give in to that idea and you won’t be limping through life; I’ll put one through your spine. You probably won’t die, but you’ll need wheels to go anywhere. Understand?’ The young man nodded vigorously. ‘Just keep yourself between me and the kids and you’ll live to fight another day. Keep your hands where I can see them. It’s the last friendly warning you’re going to get.’

 

*

 

Tallis had barely made it halfway across the room before he noticed the big black man’s gaze had targeted his approach. Botha too, aware that something had caught the attention of his man, looked up to study the old fellow approaching in the cheap suit. Tallis was mindful to keep his hands well out in the open, where all could see he posed no threat. The last thing he wanted was to be taken out in violent fashion by an overzealous minder. And given recent events surrounding their boss, their paymaster, he suspected that all would be on a high state of alert, with instructions to act first and ask questions later.

When the big man was certain that Tallis had set his course for their table, he stood and came around to intercept him, putting himself between Tallis and Botha. Botha remained seated. From the corner of his eye, Tallis now saw the suit hurrying over from his position at the doorway. It was time, he felt, to exercise one of his particular talents. He raised both his palms in front of him in the most non-threatening of ways, forced his face into a smile and looked as amiable as he felt he could. He stopped a few feet away, aware that for the second time in a week he had brought silence and stillness to a restaurant.

‘I’m here to see Mr Botha,’ he said, locking eyes comfortably with the giant of a man in his path.

The black man shot a look at the suit and with a flick of his enormous head sent him scurrying back to his post. ‘Mr Botha is here to meet a man called Sansom. You do not fit our description of him.’

Tallis could hear that the restaurant’s patrons were still more attentive to the scene being played out in front of them than to their own conversations. He also noted that this seemed to bother the man in front of him not at all. ‘I’m here instead of Sansom.’

‘Then we’re leaving,’ said the black giant, staring down at the policeman, ‘and if you get in the way, I will personally put you through the nearest window.’

The policeman did not doubt the threat or the man’s ability to carry it out. He stood immobile, looking up into the brutal black face.

When Botha spoke it was the short clipped voice of English with a strong Afrikaans accent. ‘Who are you?’ he said.

With the huge frame between them, Tallis couldn’t see the man who spoke to him. But he realised that what he said next would probably be his last opportunity to forge the meeting. The giant made no attempt to improve his view. ‘My name is Tallis. Sansom wasn’t able to come.’

‘Not much of a man then, is he? I’ve taken the risk, haven’t I?’

Tallis got the idea that this man was genuinely concerned about Sansom’s proximity and motives; he sounded edgy, anxious and irritable. ‘It wasn’t his choice. If you’ll allow me to explain, I’m sure that I can make you understand. I’d like to ask you a few questions if you don’t mind. Clearly, I’m no threat to you.’

‘He’s right; we’re leaving,’ said Botha.

Tallis heard a chair being pushed back behind the big man, who maintained his position between him and Botha. Botha emerged from behind the huge frame to appraise Tallis for a brief second, imprinting his face on his memory. Then he turned and began walking away. The big man gave Tallis a final stare and turned to follow him.

Feeling that he was about to lose his one opportunity, he delivered his trump card, calling out to the retreating figures with complete disregard for the attentions of others present. ‘Does the name Bishop mean anything to you, Mr Botha? Or the ship, The Rendezvous?’ Botha stopped, both shots hitting home. He turned again to face the policeman and all Tallis could think was that if someone had dropped a pin, it probably would have burst both his eardrums.

Cold clear grey eyes bored unblinkingly into him from across the room. Botha spoke something quickly and quietly to his tame giant, then turned again and Tallis feared that he had lost him. The big black man headed back towards Tallis and it seemed that everyone in the restaurant drew their breath, waiting to see, as Tallis suddenly feared, this huge man pick up the old duffer and propel him through the closest window. Instead, he came close and said in low tones, ‘For your sake, I hope you know what you are doing. Follow me. He’ll see you in a private room.’

 

*

 

The woman was taller than she had looked sitting down and Sansom realised as she glided across to him that most of her was leg. He put out his hand to stop her. One of the children let out a high-pitched giggle at something in the film they were watching. It lent a surreal air to the situation and made Sansom uncomfortable. He felt the need to remind the man standing in front of him that he was more than capable of monitoring him as well as talking with the woman. He jabbed him hard in the spine. ‘Remember,’ he said.

The woman glared at him. She was tough. Sansom could see it in the bold way that she faced him. And he was the one with the gun. She looked from him to the gun and back to his face.

‘Who the hell are you?’ she hissed. Her English was excellent. Like Eda, she retained only a slight trace of her native Turkish accent. Sansom almost admired her for her brazenness.

‘Shut up and listen,’ he said, giving her a clear message from the start. ‘Think very carefully about what I’m about to offer you. You give me any reason and your kids will need therapy for the rest of their lives. It can really mind-fuck a nine-year-old to see a man’s brains explode all over the furniture.’

She remained silent. ‘I’m either taking you or one of your kids with me. That can be your decision, but I’m not leaving alone.’ He knew he was giving her no choice at all. ‘And we’re leaving in ten seconds.’

She stared disbelievingly at him, coming to terms with the shocking change in her evening’s circumstances. She looked into the face of the man that Sansom had brought into the room before him. ‘You fool. He’ll kill you for this,’ she said.

‘Not if he does what he’s told,’ said Sansom, trying to discourage the youth from some idiotic action. He didn’t really want to have to shoot this inexperienced boy, especially in front of children.

‘I wasn’t referring to you,’ she said, transferring her glare back to him.

‘You’d better hope that ‘“he”’ doesn’t then,’ said Sansom. ‘Who’d look after the children with you gone?’ Sansom jabbed the pistol again into the guard’s back and, taking a step backwards, said, ‘It’s time to leave.’

‘I’m not going anywhere and neither are any of my children,’ she said.

Sansom locked eyes with her for a second before calling out across the room. ‘Hey! You, boy.’ A boy, the oldest-looking there, turned around. ‘Come here,’ said Sansom. The boy looked towards his mother. ‘Now,’ said Sansom. His seriousness was lost on none of them. With a puzzled look, the boy began to get up.

‘Wait,’ said the woman. ‘Sit down, Matthew. It’s OK.’ The boy began lowering himself down, but he was clearly concerned about what was happening with his mother. The woman waved his attention back to the screen before turning back to Sansom. Controlled, but with barely concealed hate, she said, ‘I’ll kill you myself when this is over.’

Sansom had no doubt that she was talking to him now. She turned and called to the boy, ‘Matthew, mummy’s just going to check on something. Stay here and look after your sisters. Understand?’ The boy still wore a look of uncertainty but nodded to his mother.

Sansom ushered the two out of the cabin area to the deck and, with a quick glance round, motioned that they should head towards the stern of the yacht. Once there, he told the youth to give his phone to the woman. Then to her he said, ‘Call the last person that he spoke to. Tell him you don’t care what he’s doing but to get back here, now. Alerting him to this situation will endanger your children. Remember that.’

Making no attempt to keep the loathing out of her eyes, she did as she was told. When it was done, Sansom told her to throw the phone overboard. Then they waited in the shadows.

‘Why are you doing this?’ she said.

‘You’ll find out later – but for now, shut up.’

They made a tense tableau, the three of them standing, waiting, each expecting something violent from the others. Sansom took a step backwards, putting a little more space between them.

‘If you don’t do something, Jacob, I will personally cut your balls off and make sure that you live. What could be worse than that for a man?’ she said.

Sansom shot him in the foot. The silenced pistol spitting out its carnage with little more than a stifled sneeze. The young man crumpled to the deck in an agonised writhing heap.

‘See what you made me do?’ he said.

A look of disgust flitted across the woman’s features. Sansom knew then that she was no stranger to violence. The figure on the deck began to sob with the agony.

‘If you don’t keep quiet down there, Jacob, I’ll have to finish you,’ said Sansom.

The young man shoved his fist into his mouth, muffling the noise of his pain. He continued to writhe. The woman looked down at him and Sansom thought she might finally offer him some comfort. He couldn’t have been ten years older than the boy he’d spoken to in the saloon. Instead, she kicked him viciously, twice. Sansom doubted that in the circumstances he felt either blow.

The waspish droning of the speedboat’s engine filtered through the night air, quickly increasing in volume. Sansom felt himself strangely relaxed after his initial uncertainty, completely in charge and at ease with it all.

‘Next stupid remark you make, it’ll be your foot they’ll be finding bits of. Keep still and your mouth shut. Do what you’re told and, who knows, you might see your kids again.’

The boat came alongside. The engine’s revs died. Sansom watched from his shadowy concealment as the pilot expertly nestled the craft against the landing platform at the rear, skipped out and tied it up in one fluid movement. He came up the short aluminium ladder holding on with one hand, a carrier bag full of take-away food in the other.

The man was on the small exposed section of deck before he noticed the woman. His eyes flicked from her to the body on the deck and then to Sansom. His confusion stopped him in his tracks.

He was a good deal older, more experienced. The refinements of his suit didn’t disguise the streetfighter in him. Sansom believed he could pose a problem.

Sansom had intended only to persuade him, one way or another, to relinquish the keys to the speedboat, but now, even on his borrowed time on the boat, he made time for a question as a thought occurred to him.

‘Ever heard of a ship called, The Rendezvous?’ The man’s eyebrows creased down in puzzlement and then his face changed to one of recollection and then realisation. He smiled at Sansom, showing a set of good white teeth that almost certainly wouldn’t have been his own. Sansom couldn’t have understood better if the man had drawn him pictures.

He shot him twice. The first bullet hit him high in the chest, throwing him back against the railings where his head struck, sending out a metallic ring. He was probably already dead before the second shot shattered the dental work that Sansom found so offensive and exploded the back of his head over the deck.

He then pointed the gun at the woman and said, ‘Coming, or dying?’

It seemed to have finally dawned on her that the maniac with the gun would kill her without hesitation and she had too much to live for. Maintaining some dignity, she moved forward towards the platform and the speedboat, stepping carefully over the man whose blood and brains were now fouling the deck.

Sansom cast a last look around then bent to the young fool lying moaning on the deck. Close to his ear Sansom said, ‘Tell Botha that if he wants to see his wife alive again, the mother of his children, I expect the girl back unharmed. Understand?’ The figure nodded without looking up.

Stopping only to fish the boat’s keys, weapon and mobile phone out of the dead man’s pockets, he dropped down into the boat. The woman had sat on the last of the three padded bench seats. As the engine roared into life, he motioned for her to join him in the front. He wasn’t going to have his back to that seething body of capable fury.

 

*

 

The door closed behind Tallis and without protest he submitted himself to the cautionary patting down. Botha surveyed him keenly from a wingback chair. Tallis noted another of those expensive-looking bottles of water on a table next to him. Had he been expecting to use this room all along? he wondered.

The black man removed Tallis’s police warrant card from where he was meant to find it, studied it for a moment and, seemingly satisfied, took it across to his employer. They hadn’t asked him to take a seat. Botha studied the warrant card. The men exchanged a quick look and Tallis interpreted something resembling confusion pass between them. He waited patiently.

‘The plot thickens,’ said Botha, finally. ‘Sit down, Detective Inspector, won’t you, and tell me why the British police are in league with a murderer.’ He tossed the warrant card on to the chair arranged opposite him.

Tallis retrieved it and sat down. He reminded himself that he was now in the company of a very dangerous man; a man that might be ultimately responsible for the death of his daughter and another who may even have pulled the trigger that ended her short, wonderful and promising life.

‘Let me start by saying that I’m part of a large and far-reaching police task force investigating certain irregular dealings of a British Member of Parliament – Bishop,’ he lied. He was following his detective’s sixth sense that there was a strong connection between Botha, Bishop and The Rendezvous. Something that went deeper than casual murder.

‘You haven’t answered my question,’ said Botha, clearly preoccupied with the more immediate threat of Sansom than with anything he was hearing. ‘There is a lunatic running around out there killing my people, claiming that sooner or later he’s going to get around to me and my family.’ Tallis glimpsed how rattled Botha was at the actions and threat of Sansom. ‘Explain him if you want to prolong this meeting.’

‘He is not part of our operation. Clearly, British justice would never sanction anything like the behaviour that he has been demonstrating.’

‘Bullshit,’ said Botha. ‘The British have been sanctioning dirty operations abroad ever since they learned to sail.’

Tallis inclined his head slightly, conceding the point. ‘He is a rogue element, sponsored, it appears, by Bishop. Bishop obviously wants you out of the picture. Dead men tell no tales and all that.’ Tallis noted the men exchange another look. ‘Anyway, you’ve no need to worry about him any more. He is no longer at liberty to be a threat to anyone.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Let’s just say that he is enjoying a little British hospitality overseas. He was picked up a few hours ago. He’s cooperating nicely. One of the reasons that I’m here, in fact.’ While Tallis couldn’t guarantee that Botha was buying his story, he detected an alteration in the man. Not wanting to give them time to think and pose more questions that might start to reveal the holes in his story, he adopted a policy that offence is the best defence and started his own questioning.

‘The name Bishop obviously means something to you, Mr Botha. He means something to us as well. If I can be candid for a moment, we suspect that Bishop has been involved in some significant irregularities in the arms trade. But he’s clever and careful. Covers his tracks well. Loose ends are not something that he seems to like leaving untied.

‘Our investigation keeps turning up possible witnesses, people who we can show he has had, shall we say, shadowy dealings with; people who keep dying prematurely. I think that we can perhaps help each other.’

He paused and then, encouraged by Botha’s silent attention, he pressed on. ‘You clearly have knowledge and information that he would like buried, if you’ll forgive the expression. We would like to know what that is. Of course, if we can get something cast iron on the man we can neutralise him, which would in turn negate any further threats to you.

‘My understanding of the way Bishop operates is that as soon as he finds out that his assassin has lost his liberty, there will be another along soon. He really has proven quite doggedly effective and resourceful. It’s one of the things that have made him such a difficult target for us. He’s simply too high profile and well connected to botch things up with some half-arsed case against him. But we edge ever closer. Building evidence bit by bit.’ Tallis paused in the hope that some of his bombardment might sink in.

It seemed to Tallis that the South African eyed him with a certain lack of charity. Although Tallis didn’t know the man well enough to be sure of this interpretation, it still filled him with an uncomfortable sense of foreboding.

‘To be honest, Mr Tallis, I feel insulted,’ said Botha. He switched his attention to pouring himself a long glass of water. Tallis fought the urge to fidget. He felt a plummeting of spirit that he hoped was not betrayed outwardly. And he had believed things had been going so well.

‘Did you really imagine that I would be so naive, so foolish, so gullible to sit down with a complete stranger, allow myself to be intimidated, hoodwinked, fooled by a badge, a story, a remote threat and with nothing that I can see to gain for myself, other than the knowledge that I am assisting British justice; to happily sit here and spill my guts – incriminate myself? What a fool you must think I am, Mr Tallis.’

If anyone felt a fool at that moment, it was Tallis. Accepting that protestations would potentially only dig him deeper into his position, a position that he wasn’t enjoying and from which extraction would be that much more difficult, he shut up.

Botha folded his arms. ‘It’s all a little too convenient,’ he said. ‘Oh, I don’t doubt that you are who you say you are, but there’s a funny smell about you. I know Bishop and I know Bishop is no threat to me. He’s a fool, a greedy small-minded, egotistical fool. If he is involved in this, he’s out of his depth. I’ll deal with Bishop in my own way. As for that unfortunate business on The Rendezvous, well, all is fair in love, war and business, Mr Tallis. Casualties are the fallout of conflict, whatever form it takes.’

‘But those people were innocent,’ said Tallis, seizing an unexpected opportunity. ‘They were nothing to do with your illegal dealings with Bishop. There were women and children on board.’ Tallis felt the sheer bewilderment of this man’s complete disregard for life well up inside him and threaten to push him into a position that would ultimately do him no good.

‘As I said: regrettable – wrong place, wrong time.’

Tallis detected something like distaste for the memory of it in the way the man delivered his words.

‘I’m more interested to know how that incident has come to be connected with me.’

‘Because you believe that you left no trace of your involvement?’

‘Because I want to know.’

Tallis smiled thinly, almost apologetically, at the man. ‘I’m afraid that I can’t divulge that sort of intelligence, Mr Botha. Perhaps if you were prepared to cooperate with our investigation…,’ he hesitated a moment, but got no encouragement in response, ‘…then I can see that we’re wasting each other’s time. It would seem that my hope that you might be able to assist us with our enquiries is to be fruitless.’

He stood to leave, conscious of the fact that he had no authority, position or value in the room any more and that any minute Botha or his giant were going to get a call that would upset them greatly.

Any small confidence that he had felt approaching the meeting that he might be able to bluff Botha into some kind of disclosure had been extinguished. The short walk to the door would be like a long walk across a treacherously-thin covering of ice spanning a perishingly-cold expanse of deep water.

However, appearances were what mattered now. Forcing himself to exude what little confidence he could muster, he said, ‘Thank you at least for speaking to me. There appears to be nothing further for us to discuss. Goodbye.’

He had turned and was making his way to the door when a phone started ringing in the room and then, in a dreamlike moment of the most dreadful timing, a second phone with exactly the same ringing tone began to call out from his own pocket.

He quickened his stride slightly and held his breath. Just get out into a public area, he told himself. He was reaching for the door handle when he felt something like a small bag of cement being placed on his shoulder. He turned instinctively to see the hand of Botha’s man restraining him.

‘Your phone is ringing. Aren’t you going to answer it?’

He was quick and agile for such an enormous frame. Tallis had been completely unaware that he had covered the ground between them.

‘Outside, I will, thank you,’ said Tallis, but even to himself his voice sounded hollow.

‘Let me see it.’ The huge hand was now extended like some novelty pink tray waiting for Tallis to comply. The ignored ringing of the other phone in the room only added to the sense of tension that he realised. Tallis felt himself swallow something large, but it was only the dryness in his throat.

Botha’s man reached into Tallis’s jacket pocket – how did he get that hand in there? thought the policeman – and removed the phone that Sansom had given him; the phone that Sansom had taken from the dead man in Eda’s Istanbul apartment; the phone that looked exactly the same, sounded exactly the same with its unusual ringtone, as the other phone that the big man was now cradling in his other massive palm.

Tallis found himself rotated through one hundred and eighty degrees and, gently but firmly, propelled back to his seat. The phone was handed back to Tallis.

‘Answer it,’ said the big man.

Tallis needed no threats. He was grateful for the opportunity to communicate to Sansom the agreed phrase that would let him know that he was not in a position to talk. He pressed the green button and said, ‘Detective Inspector Tallis.’ The line went dead. Tallis looked up to the figure towering over him. ‘Wrong number,’ he said.

 

***

 

 

23

Sansom swore. The woman looked up at him from the sun-lounger on which she had perched, but said nothing. The speedboat lay resting on the gentle shingle incline that he had run it up not ten yards away.

Retrieving the rest of his clothes, he had dressed quickly, discarding the still-dripping T-shirt in favour of the dryer, roomier jacket. Into the pockets of this he distributed the two phones and the pistol he had removed from the dead man. The silenced pistol he concealed in the T-shirt and carried, along with the binoculars.

He made sure that she got a good look at the weapon he had already used to such devastating effect. He wanted to remind her to be scared, as far as he believed she was able to be scared. And if not scared then at least mindful of what he had shown himself to be capable of.

The darkness along the water’s edge was exaggerated by the bright lights spilling out from the bars. The high volume of competing music systems had masked any noise that they had made beaching the boat. Few had paid them any more than cursory attention.

Ready to move off, Sansom said, ‘I hope you’re a smart woman, smart enough to know better than to try something stupid. Get up. Start moving along the beach.’ He gestured which direction she should take.

Taking a hostage had been a spur of the moment decision – the only way that he could see to gain some leverage with Botha. However, now that he had one – and what a one – he had little idea of what to do with her. He knew what he couldn’t do with her: he couldn’t take her to a hotel; he couldn’t take her to Eda’s villa; he couldn’t take her anywhere public where she could make a scene.

He had hoped to be able to get hold of Tallis, have him get the car and then collect them. He wouldn’t have approved but he could have been made to understand the necessity of it – they had Eda, for God’s sake.

But with Tallis apparently compromised, he was stuck alone, with nowhere to go and nothing to go nowhere in. He also felt himself nearing his tolerance threshold for the disastrous way things were turning out. What was clear in his head was that whatever he was going to try to accomplish he had better do it under the cover of the darkness. When daylight came, so would exposure. He would have little chance of hanging on to her when Bodrum was alive and illuminated by daylight.

Above the crunching of the shingle under their feet, she said, ‘Realising the mistake you’ve made?’ He ignored her. A few strides more, she said, ‘What is it that you want?’

‘Right now, for you to shut up so that I can think.’

She stopped and turned to face him. The defiance and anger had been replaced by something more placid and businesslike. She did her best to assume a state of compliance. After what he’d witnessed of her on the boat, he was buying none of it.

‘Tell me what you want. I might be able to help. You know who I am. We might be able to sort this out and all go back to where we came from. I’m not stupid. I know what my husband’s business is. Don’t think that I’m some dumb trophy wife without a clue.’

‘After seeing you on the boat, I’ll never make that mistake.’

‘That idiot was paid well to protect us, with his life if it came to it.’

‘I’ve no doubt that if you ever get back then that’s the price that he’ll pay.’

Ignoring the comment, she said, ‘I’m to be bargained for something, is that it?’

‘Yes, you’re to be bargained for a life. A life that had better be intact when I get it back.’

‘Or?’

The look that he gave her, his silence, left her in no doubt what the consequences would be.

‘Whose?’ she said.

‘You don’t know?’

She shook her head and he believed her. She didn’t want to be here in the middle of this. She wanted to be with her children. If she had a way to extricate herself from this quickly, she’d voice it. He stared at her impassive expression, deliberating.

He knew he was between a rock and a hard place and time was passing. Perhaps he could use her. There would be no question of him killing her in cold blood. If this wasn’t sorted before daylight, he’d have to let her go. He’d be empty handed, have nothing to bargain with, be back where he started in this only with more blood on his hands, more blood to avenge and a weaker starting position.

He guided her further away from the bright, noisy businesses of the beachfront. A fishing boat on stilted supports loomed out of the darkness. He stopped her under its stern. There would be no one to interrupt them here. He indicated she should sit on an upturned crate.

‘Your husband has had a good friend of mine, possibly two by now, taken and held against their will. I want them released, unharmed. It’s as simple as that. Two for one – you for them.’

‘What have they done?’

The question surprised him. ‘They’ve done nothing.’

‘Then why would he take them?’

‘To get to me.’

‘Who are you? What are you doing here? What do really want with my husband?’

‘Right now, that doesn’t matter. What should matter to you is that your husband hasn’t hurt my friends. What should matter to you is how much your husband will want you back.’

‘He’ll want me back.’

‘For your sake, I hope so.’

 

*

 

Without choice, Tallis sat listening to the big man as he spoke on his own phone. With a sinking feeling, he realised that things had clearly become messy on Botha’s yacht. If he’d made it out of the door, into the restaurant, he might have had a chance at escape. What happened now would depend on whether he could make them believe that he was not involved in it at all.

The big man ended the call and Tallis became aware that he was glaring at him. ‘Move from that chair,’ he said, ‘and I’ll break your arm.’

Tallis looked from the man to Botha and back again. ‘Now listen here,’ he said, ‘I’ve come to this meeting in good faith. I don’t expect to be threatened or held against my will. May I remind you that I’m a British police officer?’

‘Out here that means shit,’ said the man. ‘Do as you’re told and you might not get hurt.’

‘What’s happened?’ said Botha.

The black man kept his eyes on Tallis, apparently still trying to work out if he was complicit in whatever had happened on the yacht. ‘Sansom’s not in custody. He’s been to the yacht. Heath’s dead, Jacob’s been shot. He’s taken your wife.’

Botha exploded from his seat. ‘What?’ His rage was instant and incandescent and aimed at Tallis. ‘You fucker.’ His eyes became wild, the skin pulled back on his features in his anger. He seemed to have shed ten years and at one stroke become as terrifying as any person Tallis had ever had to deal with. ‘He’s harmed my kids, he harms her, I’ll kill you with my fucking bare hands.’

‘Listen to me,’ protested Tallis. ‘I have got nothing to do with this. I’m telling you, when I left him this evening, he was secure, guarded by three of my operatives.’

‘You’re lying,’ said the big man, his restrained reaction to the news from the yacht was no less menacing than Botha’s dynamic outburst. ‘You’re here to divert us. Give him an opportunity to get on board. There is no covert operation securing Sansom, there never was.’

‘That simply is not true,’ maintained Tallis. ‘I repeat to you that I’m here as part of an undercover operation and that up until I left them not three hours ago Sansom was being held by members of the British military.’ The pair facing him, despite their accusations, seemed momentarily unsure.

‘We’ll find out soon enough,’ said Botha. ‘You’re coming with us.’

‘I’m certainly not going anywhere with you,’ said Tallis, trying to rise above the danger he was clearly in.

The giant man had him out of his chair with his arm behind his back before he could protest further. The pain was excruciating as the pressure being exerted threatened to pop the ball of his shoulder from its socket. Tallis let out an involuntary cry. The man eased minutely back.

‘You’re coming, whether you like it or not,’ he said. ‘Whether you come with the use of this arm or not doesn’t matter to me.’

Tallis found himself frogmarched on the tips of his toes out of the room, across the lobby and into the warm night air. If he’d dared to call out for help, he doubted that he’d have made any sense to anyone who cared to listen.

He was propelled into the back seat of the Audi and the huge black man squeezed himself in next to him. The driver started the engine. The other man that had been on watch outside scurried ahead, opened the front passenger door for Botha and slammed it shut after him. He then got in on the other side of Tallis.

As the vehicle accelerated away, Tallis found himself wondering if this had been what they had planned to do with Sansom if he had kept the appointment instead of him.

A ring tone that Tallis recognised began trilling in the otherwise-silent vehicle. With some effort in the confined space, the giant retrieved a phone from his pocket. ‘It’s him,’ he said.

Botha didn’t turn around in his seat. ‘Answer it.’

Tallis wondered why Botha didn’t speak to Sansom. Did he not trust himself? He watched as the enormous fingers accepted the call and then activated the loudspeaker function.

‘Sansom?’

‘I have something that you want and you have something that I want. I suggest a trade.’

‘Go on.’

‘The girl for the wife, assuming that is, that he wants his wife back and you haven’t harmed the girl.’

‘What about the policeman? Don’t you want him back too?’

‘What have you got him for? He’s no friend to me. Do what you like with him. Are we trading?’ Sansom and Tallis had agreed this outward position of their non-relationship should things go as badly as they obviously had.

There was a moment’s hesitation before the big man answered. ‘Yes, we’re trading. Let me speak with Mrs Botha.’

‘Call this number back when I can speak to the girl. Then you can speak to her.’ Sansom rang off.

‘I told you,’ said Tallis. ‘Now, I’ll ask you to release me.’

Still without turning around, Botha said, ‘You’re going nowhere. For the time being consider yourself my guest.’ And then to the driver, he said, ‘The old woman’s place in Akyarlar.’

And Tallis knew then where Eda was being held.

Compressed uncomfortably between the two big men, Tallis prepared himself for the forty-minute drive that by now he knew well enough. He listened to Botha make phone calls to the yacht and their destination, giving his instructions. And he wondered what they now believed of his involvement in this.

 

*

 

The idea had come to Sansom as he was speaking on the phone. On land he was about as effective as a fish out of water. With the woman to watch and hold on to, with daylight looming to undermine his position, with no place to hide and with the probability of an outnumbered confrontation approaching, he needed to be able to put himself in a position that would even out some of those differences.

On the sea, his position would be greatly improved. And he had the transport to solve all of his concerns. In the speedboat, he could run himself and the woman to any sheltered cove, he could move quickly and he could keep them away from people. With Botha, he could even arrange the exchange in the middle of the sea and with the power of the speedboat get himself, Eda and, when it came to it, Tallis away.

Sansom closed the phone. ‘Get up,’ he said ‘We’re leaving.’

‘Where to?’

‘You’ll see.’

He marched her without speaking back down the beach to where the speedboat was still rocking gently on the shallow incline of the shingle bank. She climbed aboard without protest. He pushed the vessel to float clear of the land, jumped in and fired up the engines. They headed out to be enveloped by the darkness hanging above the Aegean.

 

*

 

Tallis could do no more than watch the shadowy scenery flash past the windows and consider what lay ahead for him. The vehicle’s interior was now quiet with the preoccupations and sense of unease created by Botha’s phone calls. Tallis had listened in something approaching despair as Botha discovered the details of Sansom’s raid on the yacht.

He had heard Botha instruct the Captain of the vessel to weigh anchor and move around the coast of Bodrum to Akyarlar. From the one-sided conversation, he heard Botha respond to the Captain’s concern regarding the bodies of the dead and wounded men with indifference. The solution he suggested amounted to stripping them of identification and disposing of their weighted bodies overboard in deeper water. Botha left none of those privy to the conversation doubting that if the wounded man didn’t die before Botha saw him again, he would personally dispatch him for neglect of his duty.

Tallis detected military-style expectations and punishments, leading him to believe that Botha’s past had been of such a nature.

‘Tell me what you have on Bishop, so far,’ said Botha, clearly addressing Tallis.

Tallis realised that it could be in his interests, to his possible advantage in more ways than one, to respond now cooperatively and fully – even to the point of further fabricating information against the ex-Minister.

‘He has been accused by several reliable sources of abusing the position that he enjoyed as Minister for Defence Procurement to bolster his own fortunes while brokering certain international contracts.’

‘And what exactly has this to do with the Hampshire County Constabulary, if I remember your warrant card details correctly?’

‘My personal professional interest centres on Bishop’s implication in certain murder enquiries. As I tried to explain to you, I’m part of an undercover task force that’s been set up to investigate the Minister’s strongly-rumoured involvement in these.’

‘Name some,’ said Botha.

Tallis understood that Botha was testing him. ‘Most recently, an investigative journalist for one of the UK broadsheets, Phillip Hatcher. Before that, a fellow named Harper, whose involvement we haven’t been able to connect with the international arms investigation, but who was involved, albeit indirectly, in the disappearance of The Rendezvous, with all hands and passengers, a few of them British citizens – one of whom was Bishop’s son.’ Tallis felt the large frame of the black man next to him shift his position. ‘But you know all about that, of course.’

‘Like I said: regrettable, but not without its results. Bishop is a greedy fool. He also carries around the erroneous assumption that he is an important man, or at least he did when he came to me.’

Tallis held his breath for the information that he believed was about to be imparted to him.

‘Do you know what I do, Mr Tallis? Among other things, I broker arms deals with Third World countries that you First World countries don’t want to dirty your hands with. I’m a middle-man. I supply these primitive-minded African nations with the technology and equipment that they so desire to destroy each other.

‘Someone’s going to do it. While ever there are politically-ambitious men who can afford the hardware they need for a quick route to power and there are First World countries with out-of-date or surplus arms to get rid of there will always be good business to be done. Why shouldn’t it be done by me?’

‘And Bishop’s involvement?’

‘When Bishop was a Minister he was a powerful man to know. No, not powerful, useful. The British Army had several caches of arms, small to heavy, that were just sitting around preparing to rust. The British government were keen to sell them but couldn’t be seen to be offloading the hardware into political hotspots. Imagine the uproar internationally.

‘That’s where Bishop came in. We worked something out that was to be to everyone’s benefit: your government’s, mine and his personally. He received, shall we say, significant inducements and enticements, all in advance, parted with in good faith – and then I’m afraid he let us down rather badly.’

‘So, you had his son and every other poor innocent soul on that boat killed for it?’

‘There was a little more to all that business in the Pacific than simple revenge, Mr Tallis. Do you really think we would go to all that time, trouble and expense to kill his son when we could easily have done that on dry land anywhere?’

‘What more?’ said Tallis, suddenly forced to consider for the first time that perhaps there was something more to the slaughter in the Pacific, something that he had been blind to.

‘Never mind. Let’s just say that Bishop’s son being on that boat was a little bonus. Bishop put me in a rather awkward position with my customers. He’s caused me a great deal of inconvenience and embarrassment and he’s cost me money. He would keep trying to convince us that he was within a hair’s breadth of following through with his promises. I’ve been too patient with him. It seems now, though, that in sending an assassin to silence me that he has either changed his mind or realised that he has no hope of fulfilling his ambitions or his promises. It seems that he has outlived his potential usefulness.’

‘What will you do?’ said Tallis, fighting to suppress the anger that was smouldering within him as he had to sit and listen to this man pontificate and justify the gratuitous murder of his only daughter, not to mention the other innocent people from The Rendezvous.

But the question was not answered. Pulling off the road, they swept up a rough track that in a minute opened up into a floodlit courtyard in front of an old farm complex. The vehicle came to a halt and they got out. The large black man spoke to the driver, who departed quickly.

Tallis was guided towards a set of low outbuildings by the black giant. Botha disappeared towards the house without a word. Tallis approached the dimly-lit whitewashed structures with mounting apprehension.

Had Botha confided all that to him because he knew he had only a short while to live? A terrible feeling of helpless inevitability came over the policeman. What could be out here for him, away from the house, other than a bullet and a shallow grave? His legs grew weightier with each stride. The big man took him under the elbow in his vice-like grip to hurry him along.

They arrived at a single-storey cinderblock animal enclosure. A bright moon illuminated the sturdy studded door, its heavy padlock and the barred unglazed window. The giant retrieved a key hanging on a wall. He snapped open the lock and Tallis felt a hand in the small of his back shove him unceremoniously over the threshold. He stumbled but kept his footing in the darkness. The door slammed shut behind him, leaving the only light in the room a patch of latticed moonlight. The heavy steps of the big man retreated, leaving him alone and, he realised, shaking slightly.

 

***

 

 

24

When Sansom was satisfied that they were far enough from the shore, he altered course to follow the coast away from Bodrum to the east. Running without lights or visibility would be courting disaster if prolonged. Not being familiar with the coastline, he had no desire to tear the bottom of the little craft out on some barely-submerged rocks.

He felt strongly that Botha would be acting sooner rather than later to bring some form of resolution to the new situation. His plan was to tuck into the nearest deserted cove at the earliest opportunity, drop the small anchor and play the waiting game.

However, with no specific knowledge of the local coves, he was reluctant to take such risks. His experience of the Bodrum coastline so far gave him to understand that, should he risk the shallows, it would be sheer pot luck whether he would encounter sand, shingle or solid rock. He checked the fuel gauge and was comforted to see that at least the tanks appeared to be near full.

Out in the open, exposed expanse of water the temperature, encouraged by a gentle sea breeze, dipped several degrees below that on land. Already he was beginning to feel the chill of the night. He noticed that the woman had found a blanket and draped it around her shoulders. In his indecision, he shut down the engines to a gentle idle. It was serene to be floating at the whim of the current under the clear skies and reminded him with a pang of a time when he had lain side by side with Alison looking up at a similar starred tapestry from the deck of a sailing-boat they had been fortunate enough to borrow for a week before Abigail was conceived.

The idling engine nagged him. He was using valuable fuel that might be needed that night or the following day. There was little chance of replenishing the tanks if they needed it. The woman had lain down across the rearmost of the bench seats with the blanket fully covering her. Like that, he saw no threat in her any more.

Sansom made the decision that he had to try to find some seabed that would be able to hold the anchor and enable him to cut the engines completely but that would mean getting closer to the land. Slowly, using the moonlight and the lights of the shore, he eased the craft inshore, his eyes constantly scanning the surface for any sign of obstructions.

Feeling close enough and being as sure as he could be that Botha’s wife was subdued and had no intention of taking advantage of his diverted attention, he clambered on to the prow of the little craft and hefted the anchor over the side.

It hit the water with a resounding splash, the chain paying out after it like some skeletal snake in pursuit. He watched and waited as the links rattled past in a blur of reflected moonlight. And then it hit, dragged along the floor of the sea and finally caught on something that swung the boat around, secured.

He breathed a sigh of relief and shot a look over his shoulder to where the woman lay. But she was gone. The blanket, her discarded sweatsuit pants and hooded top lay on the bench.

Cursing himself for his carelessness, he pulled off his jacket and trainers and, in his still-damp shorts, braced himself on the fibreglass prow. Sweeping the area between the craft and the shore, he strained his vision and hearing for the tell-tale signs of her escape.

He located her already some fifty yards distant, her head rising and falling rhythmically as she breast-stroked away from the boat. He arrowed himself into the water, surfacing moments later to power after her. After a dozen strokes, he adjusted himself to catch a glimpse of her position. Aware that he had realised her flight and located her; with no further use for secrecy and quiet, she had changed her own style to a crawl.

He put his head down and soon found his rhythm. Another twenty strokes and he had to alter his technique to get sight of her. She was maintaining a direct route to the shore, throwing all her energy at one crude but clearly effective attempt to escape.

As he pushed himself after her, he could tell that she was no slouch in the water; he’d barely dented the gap between them. Probably something to do with those long legs, he thought – and his lengthy earlier immersion in the water wasn’t helping.

He ploughed on, feeling the strain in his breathing and limbs. Another quick glimpse showed him that she too must be tiring as the gap had closed slightly. He also realised with a spasm of frustration that she would reach the shore several seconds before him.

Digging deep and kicking hard, he managed another twenty or thirty big strokes before he smashed his knee on something. Pain shot through his leg, causing him to call out. He scrambled to his feet on the shingle bed to see the woman also on her feet wading ahead of him.

He soon understood that the rough seabed was to his advantage. A year of being mostly barefoot had toughened the soles of his feet to the extent that he was able to move quicker across the jagged covering of the shore. In contrast, she appeared to be picking her way painfully, hobbling over the terrain of the shallows. With such an advantage, he was able to close the gap between them further.

Still she made dry land before him. To his dismay, he saw her take off in the direction of what looked like dunes banking the beach. His legs were leaden and his breathing heavy and laboured as he splashed through the remaining shallows. She was clearly very fit and on the sand she had increased the speed of her movement.

He limped in pursuit, spurred on by his desperation, his knee smarting with every stride. He could feel the warmth of his blood running down his shin. The thought of losing his prize was not to be contemplated. In the faint light, he saw her trying to scramble up and over the face of the dunes, heard her cry out in her frustration and desperation. Twice, as he closed the final gap, she fell backwards, unable to find a hold with either feet or hands.

Aware of his closeness, she gave up and turned to face him. Her breathing was deep, rapid and furious. As he approached, she dropped to her knees and scrabbled about in the sand for something to fend him off with. He slowed to an exhausted walk and stopped ten feet from her. She crouched, adopting a stance that conveyed to him that she was not to be taken a second time without a struggle.

Fighting his exhaustion and breathlessness, he said, ‘You tried. You’ve failed. Turn around, come back to the boat, and I promise you that I won’t hurt you for this.’

She laughed then, a harsh laugh born of the surprise of something unexpectedly funny. ‘You’re a bigger fool than I took you for. You won’t get me back out there. Realise that I’m a dead end for you and leave. Look at you. You’ll barely manage to get yourself back to the boat, let alone me.’

‘As you like,’ he said. He took a step towards her and she flung something at him. It whistled past his ear in the darkness. She bent to pick up something else and he charged her. She was almost upright, her arm in the air above her head, poised to bring something down on his, when he hit her, smashing into her midriff with his shoulder, forcing an animal grunt from her. She was flung back against the wall of the dune. He sprawled on top of her, wrenching a small rock from her grasp.

As well as the wind being knocked out of her, so was the fight. She squirmed for a moment and then submitted entirely to his strength and dominance. He lay on her for several moments, catching his breath and his senses, ignoring the fact that she was naked apart from her skimpy sodden underwear.

He began to compose his threats in his mind and then abandoned them all. She’d had her chance. Words had no effect on her. His breath was better employed on breathing.

He grabbed a handful of her hair and hauled her to her feet. She yelped. He slapped her hard across the face. He yanked her head back into him, his mouth against her ear. ‘You’re coming back to that boat whether you like it or not. How you get there is up to you. I’ll give you one last chance to make your own way back, or I can put you out and drag you back. But that will come with certain risks – all yours.’

‘Go to hell,’ she said.

With her neck in the crook of his arm, he increased the pressure on her windpipe. She fumbled and tugged at his grip but the strength had flowed out of her and now she was slowly losing consciousness. She patted his arm repeatedly – a signal of submission – and he eased the pressure. She spluttered and coughed but he held her still, ignoring the friction of her bareness up against him.

‘OK. OK,’ she gasped. ‘Get off me.’

He pushed her away. ‘Get back in the water.’

‘I need a rest.’

‘No, you don’t. You’re more than capable. Now move.’

To his relief, she turned and began to plod her way back to the sea. He followed her at a distance as she paddled, then waded and then plunged and began her breaststroke back to the craft. He fell in behind her, watching for any sign of deception, but there was none.

It took them ten minutes to get back to the little craft. Sansom estimated that they had been away from the phone for about thirty minutes and he worried that they might have missed a call from Botha.

At the small set of metal rungs at the rear of the bobbing craft, she made to haul herself up. Realising she would know he had two pistols in his coat, he roughly pulled her back into the water. She splashed, protesting at her treatment.

‘After me,’ he said, clambering up.

‘You have no manners,’ she scowled.

He said, ‘Manners, I save for the ladies that I meet.’

Back in the boat, he took up the blanket that she’d used to keep herself warm and dried himself on it. Then he took her clothes and hurled them into the water, leaving her dripping and shivering on the bench seat. He dressed himself and checked the mobile phone, relieved to see that there were no missed calls. She glared at him and it struck him that the hatred burning inside her was probably enough to keep her warm. Eventually, he threw the blanket at her. She grabbed it and wrapped it around herself without a word.

‘What now?’ she said.

‘We wait. We wait for your husband to show how much he cares. We wait as long as it takes.’ He took the silenced pistol and aimed it at her knee. She shuddered and her eyes widened in horror as she tensed herself against the impact.

‘I don’t have the energy to do that again,’ he said. ‘Try anything similar and you’ll be target practice.’ He waved the pistol at her in emphasis. She huddled herself down into the seat, as far out of the breeze as she could get. The confident, self-assured aura that she had projected before her attempted escape had outwardly been replaced by a posture of defeat and resignation. Her shoulders were slumped and her exertions and exposure to the sea replaced her superior refined exterior of earlier with a bedraggled, conquered look.

He settled himself into the seat behind her, the pistol on his lap, the phone next to him, and began the waiting, determined to pay closer attention to his prisoner. He was not about to let her fool him again.

 

*

 

The noise of movement, a gentle rustling in the furthest, darkest corner of the cell, alerted Tallis to the presence of something or someone. Out of the darkness a foreign language exploded at him, nothing of which he understood, yet there was something familiar in the tone.

‘Eda?’

‘Detective Tallis?’ Her response was a release of her pent-up emotions. He found himself pinned in a desperate embrace. Instinctively, he put his arms around her as he would have comforted his own grown-up daughter, patting her back in that awkward fatherly way.

‘I knew that you’d find me. Where is Acer?’

He eased her away from him by the shoulders. ‘It’s not as encouraging as that, I’m afraid. I’m sorry. Looks like we are both unwilling guests of Mr Botha. But keep your voice down. We’re not supposed to know each other. Do you understand me?’

‘It’s a little late for that, Detective Inspector,’ came the voice that Tallis recognised as the big man’s. Tallis realised that he’d been fooled by the retreating steps he’d heard and his heart sank. ‘A most touching reunion,’ he added, laughing softly.

Eda let out a soft moan of realisation. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said and Tallis heard her begin to cry.

‘Ssshh,’ he said. ‘Let’s have none of that. It’s not your fault.’ Accustomed now to the gloom, he put his hand out and touched her shoulder. Turning to the window behind him, he said, ‘So, what now?’ But there was no one there. Moving to the barred opening, he saw the rolling gait of the huge man ambling away towards the house. He turned back to Eda, who had slumped back down on to a straw bale. ‘Are you all right?’ He asked. ‘Have they hurt you?’

‘No, they haven’t,’ she replied, unable to keep the despair out of her voice.

‘They won’t. Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘Acer’s been busy on your behalf. He has Botha’s wife. He’s offered them a trade: you for her. I think they’re preparing for it.’

‘How can he win against them? He’s on his own.’

He was sorry to hear the hopelessness in her voice. ‘I wouldn’t underestimate our friend,’ said Tallis. ‘He’s a very determined and resourceful young man. And what’s more, they know it. They’ll take him seriously, I’m sure.’

‘What about you?’ she said.

‘Oh, don’t worry about me. I have a feeling that Botha has other plans for me involving a certain Member of Parliament in London and former business partner of his. I might just have become more useful to him alive and well than anything else.’

He hoped his words could offer her some comfort at least, even if he didn’t really believe what he had said. Settling himself down beside her, he ran over in his mind what Botha had told him of Bishop, making sure that he had the facts clear, should he ever have the opportunity to do something with them.

 

*

 

Two hours had elapsed since he had spoken on the phone. Sansom felt stiff, cold, hungry and tired. However, being in control on the boat, he had the upper hand in the psychological stakes. As his hostage and subject to the same physical conditions, the woman across from him couldn’t have been feeling any better than him.

He understood that she was shivering beneath her picnic blanket and he regretted his petty cruelty in throwing her clothes over the side, letting his anger get the better of his reason. It was a spiteful act. But there was nothing to be done about it now.

‘You said you’d tell me what this was all about,’ she said, breaking her silence.

‘I don’t remember that,’ he said, ‘but I will.’ He was grateful of the opening for conversation, for the chance to pass some of the interminable waiting doing something other than agonising over what was to come. There was also the opportunity to let her know, if she had any doubts, just how evil her husband was.

‘A little over a year ago I was a happy and contented man. I was on the holiday of a lifetime on a ship in the Pacific Ocean. I had a job. I had a home. I had my wife and child with me. I had a good life. And then your husband’s men came over the horizon.

‘They murdered everyone on board: men, women and my child. That’s what I’m doing here. And do you know why they killed them? Business.’

In the near darkness, he was unable to determine how she received the information, but she was silent for a long minute.

He gave her that minute, before saying, ‘What’s up? Cat got your tongue? Why aren’t you defending him, telling me you don’t believe it?’

‘Because I do,’ she said. Her words, when they came, had a despondent tone and were delivered in a manner suggesting disillusionment, weariness and intense sadness.

‘So now you know why I’m here,’ he said.

‘Revenge?’

‘Yes. Plain, simple, age-old revenge. He’s taken away everything that ever meant anything to me and now I’m going to do the same to him.’

She let out a low moan. The blanket dropped from her shoulders as she sat up, the implications of what he was threatening dawning upon her. She made no effort to cover herself. ‘You can’t,’ she said. ‘You can’t harm the children. They have nothing to do with this. They are innocent.’ She was almost pleading with him because now that she understood his motives, she was afraid for the first time.

‘So were my wife and my child. So was everyone else on that ship. Your husband’s hired killers made a premeditated trip of thousands of miles to commit murder. My wife and child were innocent, as was everyone else on that boat. People’s lives mean nothing to men like your husband; they’re just pawns to be sacrificed to maintain his position and lifestyle. Your lifestyle.’

She fell silent. Sansom doubted whether she would speak again when she surprised him: ‘Tell me something: your child, boy or girl?’ The phone began to vibrate and ring on the seat beside him.

Ignoring it, he said, ‘Abigail, a nine-month-old girl.’ Her head sank down to rest on her chest. She pulled the blanket once more around her, hiding herself from further conversation.

Sansom picked up the handset and answered it. ‘Yes.’ He felt invigorated with his refreshed anger, his renewed reason for being there, his only reason for being alive.

‘Acer?’ The sound of Eda’s voice threw him.

‘Eda.’

‘We’re OK,’ she said. ‘Unharmed. They’ll trade both of us for her.’ While he was thinking of what to reply, what words of comfort and assurance he could offer, the deep accented voice took up the slack.

‘That’s all you get. Now,’ it said, ‘let me hear Mrs Botha. Once I’m satisfied that she is safe and unharmed, we can talk.’

Sansom kicked the bench to get her attention. She raised her face to him and he could make out the tracks of tears coursing down her cheeks. He fought down any sympathy that threatened his feeling towards her. ‘He wants to talk to you.’

She wiped her face on the blanket and took the phone from him, composing herself with a deeply-inhaled breath. Her voice, when it came, was returned to something like the authoritative woman’s he remembered cursing him on the deck of her husband’s yacht. ‘Lucifer?’ she said. ‘No, he’s not hurt me at all.’ She listened for a few moments longer and then passed the phone back to Sansom. Her eye contact was different. The burning hatred of earlier was replaced by something that Sansom couldn’t fathom.

‘Two for one then,’ said Lucifer. ‘It’s like a supermarket offer, don’t you think?’

‘Dawn, Akyarlar. And they’d better both be OK if you want her back in one piece.’

‘Don’t worry about them,’ said Lucifer. ‘You need to be worrying about yourself. When this is done, I’m coming for you.’

‘No need. Just keep looking over your shoulder – sooner or later, I’ll be there.’ He ended the call, as satisfied as he could be under the circumstances. ‘Lucifer,’ he said to her, ‘Is that his given name or something that he’s earned?’

 

***

 

 

25

Lucifer stood beneath the dim naked bulb in the middle of the cell-like outbuilding where Eda and Tallis had been confined for what seemed like several hours. His bulk was exaggerated by the smallness of the confined space. The angle of the light upon his features gave him an almost demonic countenance. Another of Botha’s men waited just outside the doorway, although his presence was superfluous. There was nothing that the combined efforts of Eda and Tallis could have done to pose this man-mountain any physical threat. The big man appeared to be experiencing some uncertainty.

Eda edged back to the straw bale that she was sharing with Tallis. Tallis looked up, still half expecting some form of retribution for his earlier fictions, although, for the moment, all that appeared to be forgotten if not forgiven.

‘Dawn at Akyarlar, he says,’ said the ogre, standing over them. ‘He was quite decisive. Why would he choose that time and place do you think?’

He was asking the question to neither of them specifically, but Tallis felt that it would be prudent, under the circumstances, not to appear indolent and uncooperative. ‘He knows Akyarlar. We’ve been here a couple of times looking for you, actually. It’s quietish, or it probably will be at that time of the morning. I would also imagine that he would rather perform the exchange in daylight. Not so easy for him to be caught out with any nasty surprises.’

The big black face distorted into a pained look. ‘You think that he might not trust us?’

Tallis responded with a look that said, how could he not?

‘Bit of a coincidence though: us already being here, wouldn’t you say?’

‘Life is full of coincidences,’ said the policeman.

Lucifer extended a forefinger the size of a small calibre pistol barrel at Tallis. ‘That is very true, Mr Tallis, very true.’ He wheeled around to go. When he reached the doorway, he turned and said, ‘Anything you would like to eat or drink? I believe it’s traditional to ask.’

For a moment Tallis was fooled by the man’s offer and was about to ask for water, at least, but the implication of the final remark dawned on him. His face must have betrayed his confusion of feelings for the big man broke into a hearty spontaneous chuckle. He shut the door firmly and they heard the lock engaged. Seconds later the light was extinguished from some outside switch. Plunged once more into almost total darkness, they shared a feeling of depression for their lot.

‘What did he mean by that?’ said Eda, as Tallis was afraid she might.

‘Oh nothing,’ he replied, as lightly as he could. ‘Just his little joke with us.’

A child’s high-pitched squealing, so out of place there, saved him from having to elaborate or face further probing from Eda on a comment that had sent a chill through his innards. He pushed himself up from the bale and stepped up on to an upturned metal bucket for a better view of the courtyard. Craning his neck to see the cause of the commotion, he made out a short procession filing into pools of light created by the main building’s security lights. Botha was among the welcoming committee, soon joined by Lucifer. Tallis counted four children at the centre of the fuss and guessed that Botha’s yacht had finally made it round the coastline to Akyarlar.

‘What is it?’ asked Eda.

‘Looks like Botha’s children. I imagine that he wants them where he can keep a good watch on them after what happened earlier.’ As he spoke, he saw Botha scoop up a little one and cradle it against him in a show of affection. It struck Tallis how strange Man could be – murderous one moment and full of love the next.

‘Did Acer do the right thing?’ said Eda, behind him.

He turned to look into the darkness from where her voice came. In the light borrowed from the lamps outside and what was left of the moonlight, she could see enough of his profile to understand the emotions behind his reply.

‘Taking the woman, do you mean?’ She grunted affirmatively. He took a deep breath while he thought about it, sticking out his bottom lip and turning down the corners of his mouth before he spoke. ‘Under the circumstances, I suppose it could be argued that he did. It’s given him something to bargain with at least. And they’ll be taking him very seriously.’

‘But?’ she said, sensing he was not fully convinced.

‘But it’s going to bring things to a head. I mean, an exchange, I can’t see how he’s planning to pull it off. As you said, there’s one of him and at least four of them that I’ve counted. And Akyarlar? Why the hell here? There’s one road in and one road out. Let’s say they allow the swap to go off peacefully, and that’s a big ‘“if”’. How does he expect to get us out? We’ll be sitting ducks going up that hill.’

As soon as he’d finished, he regretted voicing his candid assessment of their chances. For a moment, he’d forgotten the fragile emotional state that Eda was in. ‘Still,’ he went on, trying to inject some positivity into his words, ‘like I said, he’s a resourceful and determined man. We have to help him where we can, keep our eyes and ears open. You understand me? He’s going to need us alert and attentive. I don’t intend to let him down. Plus, I’ve still got good reason for making it back to England.’

She lapsed into silence, which, while it troubled him, was preferable to further awkward questions. He plonked himself down next to her again. ‘Get some rest,’ he said. ‘It won’t be long now.’

 

*

 

Sansom judged that the moon had traversed enough of its arc to make dawn imminent. And as if to reinforce this thought, he believed that he detected the faintest glimmerings of the sun hovering just below the horizon, ready to herald the new day.

Stiff with cold and the cramped position that he had endured, he eased himself into a position to stretch. His knee ached with the knock that he had suffered; his back ached from the cold; the muscles in his legs and shoulders ached with the physical exertion of the night’s efforts, and his spirit ached with tiredness. All in all, he reflected, it was not a great start to such a momentous day.

Detecting his movement, she looked up at him. For a moment he almost felt some pity for her position in all this but it passed as quickly as it had surfaced. She said nothing, only pulled the blanket tighter around her.

Sea conditions were ideal. The cove they had sheltered in bore hardly a ripple. The air was still and the quiet made him regretful that he would soon be firing the engines and spoiling it all. He noticed a faint rising of vapour from the surface of the water and realised that he wouldn’t have seen it a quarter of an hour before. It was time to leave.

He started the engines, shattering the peace. As they idled, he scrambled on to the prow as he had done a few hours before, this time to retrieve the anchor.

He kept a closer watch on the woman, but she reminded him now of a broken animal, a tamed creature who, through the most primitive of means, had been shown who was boss and accepted it. She made no move, even with her eyes, to monitor his actions.

Slipping behind the wheel, he eased back the throttle and steered a course to follow the increasingly-better-defined coastline towards Akyarlar.

 

*

 

They came for them in the greyness of dawn. Tallis had been aware that it was fast approaching and, like a condemned man, had sat waiting for sound of them. Eda had dozed fitfully against him. She was clearly exhausted and, though his old body protested at the prolonged discomfort of his position, he had been unwilling to move and wake her. A bolt was thrown back and the lock sprung. The big man filled the doorway.

‘Wakey, wakey,’ he said.

Artificial light was unnecessary for Tallis to make out the man’s features now. Everything about his head and face was oversized. It could have been comical, thought Tallis. But in this situation he only found it intimidating. His shoulders stood out most of all. Their breadth hinted at Herculean strength, as if Tallis needed further evidence of this after having his own arm almost torn out of its socket at his hands. His shoulder still ached and he had no intention of creating a situation where the man would feel it necessary to repeat himself.

Eda stirred and eased herself upright.

‘Come on,’ said Tallis. He took her under the elbow and helped her to her feet. As they approached the cell entrance, he felt a fluttering in his stomach, a reflection of his distrust for a man who might smile at you one moment and then snap you in half for fun the next.

The walk to the waiting vehicle passed without comment or incident. Tallis and Eda were directed into the rear seats and waited.

 

*

 

Sansom answered the phone on the fourth ring. On the third, he had completely cut the engines, so that they were now just bobbing and drifting in the currents. He had no intention of forewarning the enemy of his chosen mode of transport, giving them time and opportunity to organise combative measures of their own.

‘Wake you?’ said the voice he had come to recognise as Lucifer’s.

‘You’re there?’

‘Just waiting for the guest of honour. That’s you by the way?’

‘I’ll be on the seafront in fifteen minutes.’ He cut the call and was about to restart the engines when she spoke her first words that morning.

‘They’re going to kill you all. He can’t let you beat him. It’s how he maintains his position. Fail him, cross him, stand up to him, fight him, insult him – he kills them all. It’s his way.’

Sansom gave her a lingering look. He thought she might be about to say something else but she resumed her defeated look. He gunned the engines, drew back the throttle to its fullest extent and, in the clear stillness of the breaking day, bounced them across the surface of the Aegean to their shared destiny.

 

*

 

Tallis observed that there was not another soul around as they crawled along the seafront road. He still could not see how Sansom intended to extricate them from here. If anything, it seemed a foolish and poorly-selected place to meet, especially for an experienced soldier. His feelings appeared to be shared by Botha and the big man.

‘He just said the seafront?’ said Botha.

‘Yes,’ said Lucifer. ‘Perhaps he realised what a rat-trap this place is for him and has changed his mind.’

From his position in the front seat, Botha indicated to the driver that he should come to a stop in a deserted parking area that overlooked the sea.

Although Tallis had seen or heard nothing of such an arrangement, he was quite sure that on the deserted steep and winding road out of the sleepy little resort there would be a welcoming committee awaiting them if, indeed, they ever got the chance to leave. His stomach lurched again with the renewed thought that he might never see the evening. He wondered what he could do to avert disaster, what kind of pre-exchange warning or advice he could get to Sansom in order for him not to lose his advantage, give up the one thing that Botha appeared to value enough to go through all this.

‘Call him,’ said Botha. ‘I want to know where that fucker is.’

 

*

 

Sansom let the powerful engines grumble at their lowest revolutions. With a glance at the woman, he stood on the bench seat, raised Tallis’s binoculars and confirmed what he’d thought when he coasted into the bay of Akyarlar – Botha’s yacht was anchored inshore. He was assimilating this information into his plans when the phone rang again in his pocket. This time, he made no attempt to hide the engine noise. He was there and probably so were they.

‘Where are you?’ he said.

‘I was about to ask you the same question,’ said Lucifer.

‘I’m here, waiting, can’t you see me?’

‘Stop playing games.’

‘You’re just not looking in the right place,’ said Sansom, patient. ‘There’s more to Akyarlar than land.’ There was a pause – a long drawn out moment during which Sansom could hear the muffled conversation of his enemies – before the voice on the phone said, ‘It makes no difference. Are you coming?’

‘I thought that you might like to come out here. Keep it private.’

‘I think that might suit us nicely,’ said Lucifer.’ The phone died. Sansom replaced it into his pocket.

Scanning the seafront, he eventually made them out. He counted them getting out of a vehicle. He counted six bodies: Eda, Tallis, Botha, Lucifer – the only one recognisable, dwarfing the others – and two suits. Within minutes he saw a small craft set out from the little jetty. Satisfied, he took the speedboat a little further out.

Now, with the physical reality of it all, his adrenalin was pumping. His fatigue had evaporated with the warmth of the early morning sun on his back. He felt as he had done in the conflict zones that he had experienced as a soldier: fully alive, engaged, focussed, wound up, alert and ready. Military training and experience had prepared him for this. It would see him through it. He removed the two pistols that he had accumulated, checked their magazines once again and stored them. His old RSM’s words leapt from the dim and distant past into his mind – ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. He’d done his best, the best that he could. Now it was up to his mettle and his luck.

 

***

 

 

26

Sansom didn’t need the binoculars to monitor their progress. The white streak thrown up by the little craft’s wake as it rose and fell across the pond-like surface was picked out by the keenness of the sun’s low rays.

The speedboat was also the only sign of life in the world. Its high-pitched whine drifted across the water to him. As he followed its path, he realised that something about its course wasn’t right, wasn’t what he was expecting. It wasn’t coming out towards him in the direct line that it should be. Instead, it was making for the larger craft.

Even as he realised what was happening, a plume of dark smoke, like the visible after-effects of a cannon being fired, could be seen hovering above the yacht before dispersing in the morning air. The reverberation of the big engines turning over drifted across the stillness to him, consolidating this information.

He persuaded himself that it made no difference. Big or small, he had no intention of getting anywhere near them and, looking at the bulk of the mother ship, he doubted whether it would be a match for the pace and manoeuvrability of his own transport, should it come to that.

There was a delay of some minutes, while they got out of the speedboat and it was tethered to ride in the wake of the bigger yacht, like some reluctant child being dragged behind its parent.

It gave Sansom the time and opportunity to understand that men like Botha would always want to attend meetings, gatherings, wherever they were, with the superior position, the upper hand and advantage, even if it were only psychological.

You came in a car; he’d arrive with a pair of top-of-the-range four-wheel-drives. You had two bodyguards; he had four. You came in a propeller-driven plane; he’d turn up in a private jet. You were there in a speedboat; he’d need to go get his multi-million-pound yacht.

It was as much about image and impression as anything else. Images and impressions created concepts of power in men’s minds, which often served the purpose of removing the need for any further physical demonstration of it.

Eventually, the bigger craft turned around and, crossing the short distance of sea, came to a stop a few hundred yards away from Sansom. The David and Goliath comparison sidled into Sansom’s consciousness and he derived some small comfort from the reported outcome of that encounter.

Training the binoculars on the vessel’s deck, he could make out clearly now the figures and faces of those crowding the space at the rail. Tallis looked dishevelled and anxious, even at that distance. Sansom caught a look of what he imagined to be worry on his face, but the gentle rising and falling of the little boat made it impossible to fix on to anything for close scrutiny for long.

Next to Tallis and clutching the railing with both hands was Eda. She stared out blindly across the water. Her face clearly betrayed her fear. Something inside Sansom wanted to reach out and gather her to him, pull her in close, stroke her hair and make it all go away. He realised that he was in this position, this fight, as much for her now as for himself.

At least neither of them appeared hurt in any way. Towering over everyone in the little group was Lucifer, directing some unseen minion to activity.

Raking the rest of the craft’s deck, Sansom brought the glasses to bear on a linen-suited older-looking man in a matching panama hat. He was on the level of decking immediately above the smaller group. As Sansom studied him, he brought his hand to his mouth and Sansom saw the wispy exhalation of cigar smoke briefly obscure his features.

Sansom understood that he was getting his first proper look at the man Botha, who was staring back across the water at him from behind over-sized sunglasses. This was the person for whom Sansom had travelled thousands of miles, had spent hundreds of nights dreaming of and plotting against. Here was the man he believed to be ultimately responsible for what had become the ruination of his existence.

The buzzing of the phone in Sansom’s pocket jolted him out of his thoughts. As he fumbled for it, he glanced down at the woman and realised that she had not moved from her position on the bench seat. Her back was to the yacht and she was still huddled inside the blanket, detached and disturbed. He wondered whether she was perhaps clinically unwell.

‘Lovely morning for it,’ said Lucifer.

‘Could be worse,’ said Sansom. Bracing his body against the structure of the boat as it bobbed up and down, he brought the binoculars back up. He saw his own activity mirrored across the short stretch of sea. Staring back at him, binoculars in one hand and mobile phone in the other, stood Lucifer. Sansom caught the flash of white teeth as the huge man appreciated the humour that he obviously derived from their common activity, mocking him in doing so.

Sansom’s hatred for this man, the man whose voice he recognised from a walkie-talkie conversation a year ago – before his wife and child and everyone else on The Rendezvous were executed – writhed within him. Sansom knew that this could never be over for him while that man was still alive and he had breath to pursue him.

‘As a show of good faith, we’re going to let your two go first. We’ll send them over with the little outboard. The girl assures me that she’ll have no problem managing it. Between ourselves,’ he said, ‘I can tell you something that she did have a problem managing.’ As he said this, Sansom focussed on the big man, saw him let the glasses fall to be supported on the strap around his neck and, with his now-free hand, clutch his genitals.

He knew that Sansom was watching him. His face broke into another wide grin at the opportunity to goad Sansom. Sansom flicked to Eda’s face but could see that she was completely oblivious to the man’s remarks. It was all, he realised, for him, something to rile him with, derail him with.

He felt only revulsion for the man and a sinking feeling in his stomach as he was unable to keep the suggested images out of his mind’s eye. He found himself wondering if there could be truth in it and just as quickly realised that there could. This man, a murderer of women and children, had proved himself capable of anything.

Sansom found himself looking at Eda again, trying to fathom something of the downcast look about her. He felt a stinging in his eyes and blinked away the rising emotion before it threatened to erupt out of him.

‘Anyway,’ went on the big man, ‘I can tell you all about that next time we meet. We could compare notes.’ He chuckled for Sansom’s benefit before continuing. ‘However, before we send our guests on their way, we would like a little look at Mrs Botha, make sure that she’s in one piece.’

Sansom turned to the woman. ‘They want to see you before they release them,’ he said. She sat immobile for a moment and Sansom thought she wasn’t going to cooperate. Then, getting to her feet with the air of having something clear in her mind, she stood between him and them.

The blanket fell from her and in the full light of the early day Sansom could see that she was indeed a stunning creature. The untended tangle of her shoulder-length hair added to the picture of her as a natural beauty. The deep natural tan of the pure Mediterranean skin, the flawlessly-formed shoulders, the inverted curve of her slender back, down to the delicate rump and elongated, perfectly-proportioned legs that a man would fantasise about.

She made no attempt to pick the blanket up and cover her modesty. She stood up straight, her chin raised in a proud and almost defiant gesture. Sansom found himself wondering if there was a hidden agenda to her little display.

Holding the binoculars as steady as he could on the big black man, he wondered if it was his imagination or a trick of the intensifying shimmering light that there was an alteration in the features of Lucifer – a slip, a tightness about the jaw. It put Sansom in mind of the expression one might see on the face of a man who watched another bump into his car.

Sansom was aware that Lucifer was talking again. His voice and playfulness seemed undented, ‘She’s a fine specimen, wouldn’t you say? Like some of that yourself, eh?’

The boldness of the man to make such a remark within feet of his boss, the woman’s husband, hatched the feeling in Sansom that there was something missing in the master and servant relationship. He said, ‘Are you done?’

‘For now. Soon as you have your friends back, we’d like to see Mrs Botha making her way over. She has no trouble managing it, you can take that from me.’ Sansom closed the phone, cutting off the moronic laughter that seemed to punctuate the big man’s every remark.

‘How do you put up with him?’ he said to her. ‘What can he possibly offer you?’

She had folded herself up on to the bench seat again, but she had not covered herself with the blanket. ‘He has his uses,’ she said.

She took an interest now in the approach of the little craft. She sat upright, the magnificence of her form in her adopted posture threatening to be a distraction for him. They both knew that there was nothing to be gained for her now by creating trouble. Her means of escape was minutes away and the knowledge seemed to buoy her.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, unable to look over her shoulder to meet his eye.

‘For what?’

‘For your losses. I’m truly sorry. It is,’ she took a moment to find the most appropriate word, ‘unimaginable. In your position, I’d be doing the same. I’d never rest until I had my revenge. You won’t, will you?’

‘No, I won’t.’

After a few seconds, she said, ‘What if you had something to live for? What if the horrors that you had imagined turned out not to be completely trustworthy, not absolutely true?’ She still had her back to him, leaving him without the opportunity to derive some additional meaning from her expression.

‘What are you talking about?’ he said.

She hesitated, either lost for the way to phrase what was in her thoughts or thinking better of them, and then the little boat was only feet away.

Sansom dismissed her words as the guilty ramblings of her tiredness and realisations. She understood that she was part of his misery and misfortune – her lifestyle was based on it. She had claimed to know what her husband’s business was, but Sansom doubted that she ever wanted to be involved in the details. And now that she was, now that she had to face up to certain truths, it made her morally uncomfortable. She’d probably go home and massage her conscience in some shallow, material way: a generous donation of tainted money to some charity and then back on with her luxurious and ignorant existence.

He got to his feet, leaned over the side and took hold of the rail of the joining craft as it came alongside. His mind emptied, to be filled with thoughts for the pair returned to him. He greeted Tallis with a handshake of genuine affection. As he helped Eda over the side he held her briefly to him and was warmed in his core to feel it returned. But the happy reunion would have to wait.

They were all conscious of the presence of the scantily-clad woman sitting staring up at them. With her face turned towards them now, Sansom could see that she had again been crying.

She regarded the newcomers, committing their faces to her memory. ‘Are my children on board?’ were the only words that she had for them.

‘No,’ answered Tallis kindly, ever the gentleman. ‘They were taken ashore to some sort of farmhouse.’

‘Thank you,’ she said. It was clear that she was familiar with the location.

Tallis and Eda shuffled aside, giving her room to depart. She ignored Sansom’s offered hand to assist her climb down into the little boat. Perched on the rear bench with her hand around the grip of the throttle, she regained some of her former poise and composure. As Sansom gave the necessary shove clear, she looked up into his face. Her features were suddenly cloaked in a disconcerting sadness. She was unrecognisable as the fiery woman he had encountered not twelve hours previously.

‘Get away from here,’ she said. ‘Give this up. While you can, leave. You do have something to live for. Get away,’ she repeated. ‘In a month, find me. You’ll know where to look.’

With nothing further to say, she wound open the throttle and they watched her expertly etch a curve into the surface of the sea as she moved away from them. Immediately it was clear that her course was not set for her husband’s yacht. Proud, free and changed, she was heading for the shore and her family.

‘Right,’ said Sansom, dragging his attention back to the urgency of their situation, ‘hold on, we’re leaving.’ He slipped behind the wheel and pulled back the throttle. As he did so the top covering of the right-hand outboard inexplicably flew up into the air in an explosion of noise and energy to splash down some ten feet behind them.

Sansom’s instant thought was that the worst possible luck had struck and the engine had malfunctioned. The following echoing crack that rent the air in the split second that it took to travel from its source on the deck of Botha’s yacht across the open water to the speedboat explained everything to Sansom.

In a surreal transportation of time and place, he found himself back on the shore of the Pacific island with high velocity ammunition tearing the air around him, and he realised in that moment that history was repeating itself for him.

‘Get down,’ he shouted. ‘They’re shooting at us.’ As if to reinforce his point, a deafening crash filled the air as a fist-sized hole was punched into the fibreglass side of the boat, spraying shards of the material across the seats. He pushed the throttle and the engine spluttered. Already, there was a thick black smoke billowing from it.

Another round of the devastating ammunition smashed into the structure of the little boat. Eda screamed and Sansom whipped around thinking that she’d been hit. He encouraged the boat to lurch forward and a further shot split the air above him with a deafening crack.

He needed to make them a moving target, not a sitting duck. The engine caught and they began limping away. Crouching behind the wheel, he aimed the craft at the shore in a direction away from Botha that would either see them beach it or rip the bottom out of her on the rocks.

The windscreen shattered above his head, covering him in a thousand tiny shards of laminated glass. In his agony of helplessness, he could hear the chortling of the big man as he imagined him sighting them up again and watching with satisfaction their continued disintegration with every hit.

He risked a look over the prow and his heart sank as he saw the tips of barely-submerged rocks waiting for them. Easing back on the throttle, the engine spluttered again. The smoke was heavier now. In a desperate moment of uncalculated risk, he left his position and crawled back to Tallis and Eda. He opened his mouth to speak as another hit showered them with more fibreglass.

‘Get over the side,’ he shouted, flinging two life-jackets at them. ‘I can’t take it in. It’s dead. She’s full of fuel. She’ll go up any moment. Come on. We’ll have to swim for it.’

The pair needed little further encouragement and Sansom watched as they both leapt into the water clutching the buoyancy aids.

Once Eda had orientated herself, she looked around for the other two. She felt safer in the water. Tallis was spluttering nearby but he had a firm grasp of his float. She couldn’t see Sansom and a wave of panic swept through her. She shouted for him and was answered by the increased note of the outboards’ engines.

To her horror, she saw the speedboat move away from them and she knew then that he had never had any intention of coming with them. She screamed after him, but he would never hear her above the roar.

With both of them into the safer environment of the water, Sansom returned to the controls of the boat. He heard Eda’s shout above the splutter and grumble of the engines, but he had seen Botha’s yacht begin a course towards them and he knew that they would have no mercy from the sadistic element on board as they floundered in the water so far from land.

With a leap of faith, he coaxed the engines into life again. He could smell fuel now and knew that he was sitting on a bomb that could go up at any second. Peering through what was left of the windscreen, he sighted the yacht bearing down on them, approximately three hundred yards away. Gently, he nursed the craft out into deeper water, away from the splashing figures of Eda and Tallis.

The bullets continued to whizz and crack as the boat slowly edged out. Someone was clearly enjoying himself. And then his engines caught, responded to his throttling, and the craft surged forward. He looked over his shoulder at the smoke pouring from the damaged outboard and knew that he was on the last of his borrowed time.

Looking over at the more cumbersome yacht, he was presented with a side view, in which was clearly framed the bulk of Lucifer lining up another shot and, above him on the higher level, Botha looking on like a doting father watching a son knock over tin ducks at the fair.

The glorious idea came to Sansom then in a flash of vengeful brilliance. He lined up the prow of the speed boat, opened up the throttle to its fullest extent and thrilled at its immediate response. Whoever was steering Botha’s yacht was paying attention because he noticed an alteration in their course.

The game of tag had been reversed and David was coming for his Goliath. He anchored the throttle as best he could, but as soon as he removed his pressure the speed fell away.

He couldn’t take the risk of failing again. It seemed to him in those fateful final seconds that he’d been failing people for too long. He’d failed his wife and child; he’d failed the passengers and crew of The Rendezvous; he’d failed Tallis; he’d failed Eda. Ultimately, he had failed himself. It wasn’t something that he was going to repeat. Here, he had his chance to make his amends, to take his revenge for all of them.

As the speedboat quickly closed the final hundred yards between him and the yacht he was aware of many things. His intelligence accepted, filtered and made sense of more information than he would have ever thought possible for a man speeding towards his death.

He saw Botha on the uppermost deck turn and scramble for a doorway; he saw the face of some nameless individual at the window of the bridge look down at him with a horror-stricken expression; he saw the resolute, erect, dominating form of Lucifer staring down at him, daring him to pull it off, unable to tear himself away from the spectacle about to unfold even if it must result in his own death.

He saw the beautiful face of his beautiful wife; he saw his angelic baby daughter lying on her back, thrashing and laughing; he saw random details of his island; he saw Tallis and finally he saw Eda, framed in the candlelight of their final meal together, her eyes locked on to his own with the promise of a life.

 

***

 

 

Epilogue

The older gentlemen of the community of Akyarlar, who liked to spend their days sitting in the shade of the cluster of mature palms beside the beach, would reminisce to each other, or anyone who was interested in listening to them, how the explosion rattled windows all over the town; how, for several days the chickens of the little settlement refused to lay. It was even claimed that the deafening report had been heard as far away as Kos.

For a while there were plenty who were interested: the police, coastguard and media. In a slow news week, all duly reported and theorised at length on the extraordinary maritime incident that, for a short time, put the remote and sleepy settlement of Akyarlar on the news map.

A tragic accident was how it was eventually recorded. One recklessly-piloted or malfunctioning craft colliding with another bigger craft, causing an explosion of a magnitude unprecedented in Bodrum since records for that sort of thing began.

Of neither craft were survivors reported. The story was made all the more newsworthy when it was realised that one of those killed was the owner of the larger craft, none other than Mr J V Botha, an alleged high-profile member of the Istanbul criminal classes and an international arms trader. This revelation refuelled the story, with speculation abounding of assassination squads in a struggle for power on the highly-lucrative world stage of arms dealing.

The older members of the Akyarlar community had plenty to say on this subject also. They recounted sightings and encounters with several foreign-looking and unfamiliar recent visitors to the bay. One particularly eccentric old English gentleman was singled out for special attention.

Several of the newspaper reports ended with the sad detail that Mr Botha, whatever kind of businessman and person he may have been, was survived by a wife and four children: three sons: Matthew, ten; Clive, eight; Harry, six, and one daughter, Pearl – which one newspaper thought it appropriate to explain meant, gift from the sea – aged twenty-three months.

 

The End

 

 

 

Hello,

Firstly, thank you for taking a chance on downloading this book. I hope you found something in it to enjoy.

Secondly, I invite you to visit me at olivertidy.wordpress.com where you can find out more about other books I’ve written. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter .

Thirdly, if you enjoyed the read, please leave a comment to that effect with the retailer you obtained it from. That sort of thing is really important for an indie author/publisher. Readers’ comments are all we’ve got to go by. Alternatively, I would be genuinely pleased to receive any comments, corrections or suggestions regarding any aspect of this book and my writing at the web address above where I have made a page available for feedback.

 

Best wishes

Oliver Tidy

 

 

E-book titles available in my Acer Sansom series:

 

  1. Dirty Business

 

  1. Loose Ends

 

  1. Smoke and Mirrors

 

  1. Deep State

 

 

E-book titles available in my Romney and Marsh Files series:

 

  1. Rope Enough

 

  1. Making a Killing

 

  1. Joint Enterprise

 

  1. A Dog’s Life

 

  1. Particular Stupidities

 

  1. Unhappy Families

 

  1. A White-Knuckle Christmas

 

 

E-book titles in my Booker and Cash series:

 

  1. Bad Sons

 

  1. He Made Me

 

  1. Waifs and Strays (In production).

 

 

E-book collection of three short stories – one in each of the above series.

 

Three Short Blasts

 

 

 


Dirty Business (The First Acer Sansom Novel)

Acer Sansom, a British soldier believed long dead, resurfaces, shot in the guts in the home of a still-warm dead man. With the help of a high-profile British politician, Acer becomes embroiled in a mission for retribution and justice for the loved ones and the life he has lost. Acer’s search takes him from the south of England to the teeming metropolis of Istanbul and beyond where the action twists and turns as the story builds to an explosive climax.

  • ISBN: 9781370194742
  • Author: Oliver Tidy
  • Published: 2016-10-21 10:20:15
  • Words: 98503
Dirty Business (The First Acer Sansom Novel) Dirty Business (The First Acer Sansom Novel)