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Headhunter

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354

 

Headhunter

 

 

Robert Young

Shakespir Edition

© October 2016

 

 

 

 

Be careful what you wish for…

 

Table of Contents

 

ACT I 6

ONE 7

TWO 10

THREE 12

FOUR 15

FIVE 20

SIX 24

SEVEN 26

EIGHT 31

NINE 35

TEN 37

ELEVEN 41

TWELVE 48

THIRTEEN 52

FOURTEEN 55

FIFTEEN 57

ACT II 59

SIXTEEN 60

SEVENTEEN 65

EIGHTEEN 69

NINETEEN 74

TWENTY 79

TWENTY ONE 82

TWENTY TWO 89

TWENTY THREE 92

TWENTY FOUR 96

TWENTY FIVE 101

TWENTY SIX 104

TWENTY SEVEN 106

TWENTY EIGHT 110

TWENTY NINE 115

THIRTY 117

THIRTY ONE 123

THIRTY TWO 130

THIRTY THREE 138

THIRTY FOUR 142

THIRTY FIVE 147

THIRTY SIX 152

THIRTY SEVEN 157

THIRTY EIGHT 161

THIRTY NINE 165

FORTY 170

FORTY ONE 175

FORTY TWO 178

FORTY THREE 182

FORTY FOUR 188

FORTY FIVE 195

FORTY SIX 203

FORTY SEVEN 205

FORTY EIGHT 208

FORTY NINE 211

FIFTY 215

FIFTY ONE 218

FIFTY TWO 223

FIFTY THREE 227

ACT III 231

FIFTY FOUR 232

FIFTY FIVE 237

FIFTY SIX 241

FIFTY SEVEN 245

FIFTY EIGHT 252

FIFTY NINE 255

SIXTY 259

SIXTY ONE 263

SIXTY TWO 267

SIXTY THREE 272

SIXTY FOUR 278

SIXTY FIVE 281

SIXTY SIX 287

SIXTY SEVEN 290

SIXTY EIGHT 300

SIXTY NINE 306

SEVENTY 309

SEVENTY ONE 312

SEVENTY TWO 321

SEVENTY THREE 324

SEVENTY FOUR 334

SEVENTY FIVE 339

SEVENTY SIX 341

SEVENTY SEVEN 346

EPILOGUE 352

 

 

 

[]ACT I

 

[]ONE

 

Black. Total and endless. The longer he stares into it, the more it seems to swirl and pulsate, like a living entity.

But he does not have silence, not so long as he lets this continue, for they shout and holler at him through the tunnels and their pitch and tone rise in clamour.

Eventually he must relent but for now the moment is for him and if it means that they suffer a little more and grow more frantic then that is not his problem to contend with.

Their need for a respite is merely distraction. There are other ways to see in the darkness, other heightened, sharpened senses that are tuning in and seeking what he needs. Finding it.

There.

That cold breath of air is gentle and barely perceptible but in the freezing darkness it is a lover’s welcome caress.

He works his arm slowly up through the small space. Snaps the helmet light on.

The voices behind him rise again. They have seen it.

For a full 30 seconds he waits for his eyes to adjust and then finds that soft breeze again, follows it forward on his stomach, inches at a time.

The way seems to be blocked at first but when he moves closer he can see that the angle and the light have created the illusion of an obstacle and when he gets his arms in front of him and pushes, the blockage yields with ease.

‘Found it,’ he calls, surrendering the solitude he had so long savoured. He knew it was not his to keep, only borrow.

He uses a forearm to sweep the debris forward in front of him and moves deeper in through the motion of arms and hips, occasionally thrusting off the purchase of his toes against the floor. Minutes will pass before the rocks he is pushing forward are taken by gravity and slide away down into a convenient crack at the bottom of a short incline and settle there, clearing his path.

Moving down the slope and over the crack, he sees and feels his way sharply back up again as the fissure he is moving through changes course. The rise turns into a chimney and he is standing in it, having shifted, twisted, shimmied and pushed his way into a position that feels increasingly cul-de-sac.

As he goes, he feels the fear, hears the doubt in his mind with each and every shunt forward and up, but he keeps on regardless of it, or perhaps because of it. When he is fully upright, there is a shelf at eye level, and darkness pushes out and away above him suggesting at open space. He has only to negotiate this narrow pipe and he will, he is certain, have broken through and into the chamber they have come to find.

But the space around him is so slight, so tiny that his body occupies it completely. The more he shifts and scrambles, the more the room runs out. He is bound in rock. Petrified.

When the options run out, his breath comes faster and he struggles to control it. He knows that the tension he is feeling makes the space press tighter on him, or feel that way, but he cannot escape the sense that this chamber he has accessed is beginning to shrink around him, to grip him tighter and squeeze.

Panic won’t help. It will take him over and is more likely to kill him. But there in the adrenaline that is seeping into his blood, is the edge that he needs. He must find that thin red line now and not breach it. He is dangling by its slender thread.

He edges up a fraction, just the action of rolling forward on the balls of his right foot. His left foot shifts and his knee moves up and sideways and he does not need a foothold because the space is so tight, he grips through the pressure.

Twice more and he frees a shoulder, another push and then for a moment, no more than three seconds, his hands are trapped, his face pressed against rock and he is back in that lockup; blind and smothered, his arms bound tight and chafing, the coarse nylon and tough elastic of his sleeves like ropes.

Then he is back in the cave again, with a desperate thrust the shoulder pops loose, pinched and scraped by the rock wall and his elbow has room to move again and through a series of ins and ups and rotations, tugs and pulls he has somehow hooked fingers onto the lip of the shelf and he knows now that it is done.

Soon the fingers are a hand and then his arm is over the edge and pulling the rest of his bulk up and dragging his chest free, his other arm, his hips, his legs, his feet.

He waits until he feels the line tugged tight and they want an answer but will relish the time he has until that happens so he can get control back again, push the panic and the fear back into its box, the lid down shut.

‘Come on, speak. Why have you stopped?’

He tugs back on the line in answer.

‘You OK? You through?’ Pensive and hopeful and scared all at once.

‘If you boys are going to shit yourselves,’ he calls, the words bouncing down the tunnel away from him. ‘Do it now.’

‘What?’ A pause. ‘You OK?’

‘If you can lose a pound or two right now it would help.’

‘Tight huh?’

Daniel Campbell smiles.

‘Breathing optional,’ he shouts back and then stands up in the cavernous space and slides the mag-light from his pocket and plays its long beam across the jagged, glinting ceiling.

‘Takes your breath away.’

 

 

[]TWO

 

He sets himself apart from the other men in the room because he does not knock and he walks straight up to the wide desk without asking permission.

His suit is black and immaculately cut, such that it is impossible to miss the honed, trim shape beneath it. Square shoulders, narrow waist. His hair is close cropped but in a way that suggests it has been done with some skill and at a price, rather than running a set of cheap electric clippers with changeable plastic attachments over his scalp a few times. His teeth are fixed, suspiciously perfect, his eyes pale, his smile warm and confident.

‘We may have him.’

From across the desk narrow eyes squint at him behind thick-rimmed, thick-lensed spectacles. The man is squat, almost square shaped when he stands up, which is not often.

‘We may have a bead on your man. The investment guy.’

The eyes stay narrow and the large, square head nods.

‘May? May is better than no idea I suppose, Dusan. Though I hoped for more.’

‘All good things come to those who pay, boss,’ the called Dusan replies.

The eyes close as the laugh comes. Ice melts.

‘Good, yes. Funny. How close?’

‘I’ll need to put eyeballs on him and frankly I’d like to do that myself. To be sure. But we don’t want to spook him.’

The squint is back, the nod.

‘I hate to over-promise, as you know. Few weeks? Depends on a few things. Got a few things to do too.’

The nodding stops, the eyes glaze as the other man thinks on it. He scratches at the scar on his chin, which doesn’t itch. Just a tic. He’s had it longer than the scar.

‘It isn’t priority,’ he tells him.

There are others in the food chain that will take that clear instruction at face value. The trim man in the sharp suit knows not to, not entirely. He can see through those thick lenses and past the squinting eyes. There is a keen desire not to appear to be personal, or vindictive. His boss has built this operation, and its various facets, on simple, ruthless efficiency. It is his hallmark.

But nobody likes getting stung.

 

[]THREE

 

It is one of those soaked London mornings where it wasn’t the slippery road surfaces or poor visibility that were any sort of danger so much as the number of bobbing, darting umbrellas to be dodged.

The pavements would swell as the rush hour peaked and the rain refused to let up. Campbell had missed the worst of it this morning, getting in early after a session in the gym.

The office filled with people and noise and at nine o’clock he unplugged the earphones that he was using to block out the world and shut down the video link to the on-line presentation that he had just sat through about burgeoning yield opportunities in developing markets.

A tap on the shoulder turned his head.

‘Morning Mr Campbell. How was the caving?’ asked his boss with a smile.

‘Very good. How was Frankfurt?’

‘Three days of high adrenaline sitting. If you have any regard for me at all you won’t ask for details.’

‘You’re living the dream,’ Campbell grinned.

‘Tomorrow morning, by the way. Ten thirty.’

‘What?’

‘You’re overdue your one-to-one. Six-monthly review is now nearly eight monthly. HR are not amused.’

‘Done. I’ll bring coffee,’ says Campbell and returns to his screen to start typing up the notes he scribbled through the on-line presentation.

He has a meeting in a week with the presenter and has yet to really prepare any research or questions. This is barely scratching the surface but Campbell has been relying on his ability to wing such situations for a while now. Twice in the last six months he has simply taken an entirely different set of notes into a meeting and managed to avoid being exposed for his total lack of readiness, adopting instead an aggressive line of questioning, or thoughtful silences to cover his shortcomings.

He stumbles across some promising related material and expands on the notes he’s made until by lunchtime, he’s found a folder for it to make it look official and filed it away as complete.

The phone on his desk trills. It’s an internal call from the different ring tone.

‘Campbell,’ he says.

‘Dan. You lunching?’ asks a voice at the other end. ‘I quite fancy a pint.’

‘Not today Steve.’

‘Really? Damn. Tomorrow,’ Steve says it more like a demand.

‘Tomorrow.’

‘Tonight actually,’ says Steve suddenly.

‘Tonight as well?’

‘Yes. Tonight drinks.’ Steve explains. ‘Meant to tell you last week.’

Steve Denson is a long time colleague and friend. Campbell spent several years at an adjacent desk, and frequently an adjacent bar stool with Denson. They no longer work alongside each other, but it hasn’t stopped them drinking together just as frequently.

‘I can do that,’ says Campbell.

‘Good man. Six o’clock.’

At the moment the clock on the wall flicks over to six pm Daniel Campbell is back out of his seat and pulling on his jacket.

In the huge gleaming foyer of the building he spots Steve waiting with a half dozen others, all young men in suits and ties, all looking eager to get to the bar.

They file through the large revolving doors and in the slick street outside cabs are hailed.

‘So what’s tonight then?’ asks Campbell as he settles into the soft seat of the cab along with Steve and another man whose name he cannot recall.

‘Whatever you make it big man,’ replies Steve with a smile. ’No, not really. It’s actually my birthday.’

‘It is not,’ said Campbell surprised.

‘Pretty certain it is.’

‘Oh hell, I completely forgot.’

‘Daniel,’ Steve adopts a tone of deep hurt. ‘No card? No flowers?’

‘I will buy you a bouquet of the very finest lager.’

The other man laughs and Steve plants a hand on his knee to quiet him.

‘It is also, I believe, the anniversary,’ he says looking darkly at Campbell. ‘Of Daniel’s miraculous defeat of various nefarious criminal types.’

The uncertain expression on the other man’s face suggests that he is caught between calling out his colleague’s apparently obvious lie or playing along with some as yet unknown in-joke.

Campbell spares him. ‘Denson, what you lack in subtlety you fail entirely to make up for with wit. What he is getting at, is that I got caught up in some… some nonsense, about three years ago and managed to get myself out of it without any lasting damage.’

This seems to only halfway convince.

‘What happened?’

Campbell pauses for a moment and the other two stare at him, awaiting the response. ‘Long story.’

‘Get him drunk, he’ll tell you everything,’ says Steve as the cab slows outside their destination.

As the cab empties, Steve replaces the hand on the other man’s knee and with a serious expression, shakes his head.

 

[]FOUR

 

The champagne bucket on the table shines with condensation and the waitress slides a tray of cold-frosted flutes down onto the polished black table.

She clears away the empty beer bottles and takes another order and then Campbell hoists the cold, dripping bottle from the ice, peels away a little excess foil from the lip of the bottle and carefully begins to pour.

‘To the gatecrasher,’ he says as he raises a glass and the others join him in the toast.

‘To gangsters and memory sticks,’ adds Steve.

‘And the Dam Scam,’ Campbell finishes and they all sup.

There are more rounds of drinks, more champagne and eventually Steve is permitted to pay for one of them though Campbell notes that one of the big earning traders in the group has had a word in a waitresses’ ear so that it never shows on Steve’s tab.

The man from the cab, whose name turns out to be Justin, hovers and chats and seems like a decent personable chap who wrestles manfully with his restless curiosity for a number of hours and several drinks before he yields and asks Campbell the question.

‘What is all this about then mate? Gangsters and criminals and memory sticks?’

‘How long you got?’

For a moment Justin wears the look of a man who has just overstepped the mark but Campbell’s frown is the result of the gassy champagne repeating on him.

‘It’s OK. I can’t really give you the long version, because it will take all night and most of tomorrow. But basically a few years back some guy nearly died in my kitchen at a party I was having. No-one knew him and he left a memory stick behind that had a load of information about some company. It was a big blackmail thing.’

Justin’s eyes were wide and his mouth open. Campbell ploughed on.

‘I kind of got stuck in the middle of it. There were a few unsavoury villain types and it went pretty high up too. It was a bit hairy for a while.’

‘Jesus,’ is all Justin has.

‘Seemingly the one person not involved actually,’ Campbell cracks a smile and Justin wonders for a moment whether it is to reassure him or Campbell.

‘So what happened?’ he asks.

Campbell shrugs. ‘Figured a way out of it I guess. Went travelling for a bit afterwards. Haven’t heard anything from anyone since.’

‘Jesus,’ he repeats. ‘That’s just… .’

‘Yeah. It’s all pretty odd, you know. Like I have to stop every so often, remind myself that it all actually happened. I mean if I told you the whole thing, wrote it all down, you’d never believe me.’

Not knowing what to say to that Justin says nothing and looks around for the rest of the group and as the silence between the two of them thickens, is relieved to see their approach.

The table top is covered once again in beer bottles and a waitress appears shortly afterward with yet another champagne and ice bucket and several fresh glasses.

Campbell looks up at them and shakes his head in mock-reproach. Justin opens his mouth to ask Campbell another question but the words ‘dam scam’ are lost in the clamour and the heavy pounding baseline and Steve has slid himself between the two onto the cushioned leather. Justin has had all he will get.

‘You alright?’ Denson claps a hand on Campbell’s shoulder and squeezes.

‘I just don’t normally drink this much champagne with men. Exclusively men.’

Denson looks about them round the table and bobs his head sideways. ‘OK. Fair point,’ he concedes. He turns and pulls Justin close to shout something in his ear which Campbell doesn’t catch and then watches Justin and two more of the group vanish down onto the dance floor.

He then turns as Steve settles into the seat, sliding down until his head rests on the low seat back. Campbell snatches a frosty long necked beer and slides down the leather to join his friend in the repose.

‘How you bearing up fella?’ Steve asks staring straight ahead, his eyes fixed on the same point on the wall that Campbell’s are.

‘Good,’ Campbell nods. ‘Gets better, you know? Not under my skin so much any more. Little less every day.’

Steve nods, tips back his own cold beer. Some time passes. Not in silence, for there is none here to be found and voices must be raised above the music just for a private conversation. Steve looks up at him, a swivel of the eyes, head unmoving.

‘It’s the lock-up gets me.’ Campbell might be talking to Steve, might be to himself. ‘I can still feel that cold.’

Steve says nothing. Knows not to.

‘The other stuff was bad enough. But most the time I felt I had a fighting chance, had a chance of something. Even in that bloody house with the girls and all those twenty stone slabs of anger and the guns going off… I was in the middle of it then, up to my eyeballs. But the lock up,’ says Campbell and then when the words fail him he shakes his head then drops it.

‘It’s just a scab Dan. You can pick at it or leave it alone. But soon enough it’s gone either way.’

‘What does this count as? Coming out and celebrating like it’s bonus day? Is that picking it?’

Steve shrugs. ‘It’s what you want it to be Dan. A chain around your ankle or a medal round your neck. You get to choose. Or it’s nothing at all. The past.’

‘Feels like I have to face it down though Steve. Like it keeps on happening in my head, keeps on waking me up at night. And I have to keep on beating it.’

‘Only happened once mate. The rest is you.’

‘Like the skiing right?’ Campbell says.

‘Like the skiing.’ Steve nods at him and sits up. ‘Three hours I was lying there and I’m in agony the whole time and every single thought that ever went through a man’s head went through mine. It wasn’t the fall, or even the lying there in the cold and the white and knowing that under those trees I’d be hard to spot. It was when I heard them searching. I could hear them shout and I was so totally sure that they’d miss me. Total conviction, in the bones.’

‘Darkest before dawn right?’

‘It only happened once Dan.’

They clink the half empty bottles together and raise a half smile. ‘Happy Birthday mate.’

At that Justin re-emerges from the press of bodies near the bar and spills into the area around their table, arms around the shoulders of two slightly drunk, smiling women. Behind them follow two more, and the other two guys who Justin dragged along with him.

‘Girls, these are my friends,’ says Justin as he snatches four empty champagne flutes and holds them up, ‘and these are the boys from work!’ He laughs enthusiastically at his own joke and proffers the glasses to the girls and then the bottle.

‘Sit! Drink! Talk!’ he says and everyone shifts and shimmies on the leather finding space somehow for everyone.

‘Lisa, this is Dan,’ Justin hollers as he ushers a tall woman with long sleek brown hair in his direction. ‘Dan is some sort of superhero. He’s like if Indiana Jones and Wolverine had a baby. And Dan ate the baby.’

Lisa offers a hand and her expression flickers uncertainty. Campbell can’t decide if Justin’s over enthusiastic manner is a help or hindrance. He’ll need to come up with something to explain to her quite what such an introduction is the result of, if she is not to assume that these men around the table with their suits and smiles and champagne are not just another bunch of braying city boys, all brogues and pinstripes and no self awareness.

‘Indiana Jones and Wolverine?’ smiles Lisa as she squeezes into a quickly opened space on the seat. ‘Wow.’

‘Uh, well, I have facial hair and an interest in ancient history.’ Campbell ventures.

Lisa smiles and raises and eyebrow. ‘Your friend is easily impressed. So actually just a nerd then?’ Campbell shrugs.

She leans in a little closer. ‘That’s OK, I have the complete DVD box set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Guess we’re both nerds.’

Campbell pulls back a little looks at her. ‘I know a nerd when I see one,’ he says. ‘They don’t look like you.’

With a smile she slides a pair of thick black-rimmed glasses from the breast pocket of her blouse and slips them on.

‘Touché,’ he says as Lisa holds her empty glass in front of his face.

 

 

[]FIVE

 

It says 1.30 a.m. on Campbell’s watch as Steve slides over to him. He nudges him with a shoulder as Lisa and her friend make their way to the toilets.

‘She seems nice,’ he says.

‘She is mate. She’s very cool actually.’

‘Good for you.’

‘Time to wind it up soon, no?’ says Campbell tapping his watch.

‘This place is open ‘til three Dan. No rush.’

‘Seriously. I have an appraisal tomorrow.’

‘So? Come on Campbell, you run rings around everyone on that team. What are they going to pull you up on? Punctuality?’

‘Yeah but still-’ Campbell stops as he turns as he notes that the latest bottle of champagne is being hoisted out of the ice bucket by a tall, lean looking man with thick, slick hair and a square jaw. He is not one of the group.

‘Hey!’ shouts Campbell, but before he can step around Steve, before his friend can even register what is happening, the tall man has filled his own glass.

Campbell darts between the bodies crowding their table and the bar beyond and is in the man’s face, eye to eye before Steve can follow in his wake.

‘I’m going to assume that was a mistake that you’re about to apologise for,’ says Campbell with a smile that carries more menace than any frown he might wear.

‘Who are you?’ replies the man, with a shake of the head, all arrogance and contempt.

Campbell steps closer. ‘You want to find out?’

Steve is at his shoulder now and behind the man several of Campbell’s group are standing looking over.

‘What’s got you boys so excited then?’ says the man and takes a sip of the champagne and then frowns. ‘… the hell is this?’

‘It’s not yours for a start.’

‘Oh shit. Oh wait,’ he says and holds up the bottle in his hand to the light. ‘This is your champagne right? Christ.’

Campbell feels his shoulders drop a little and his chest deflate but still he wonders if this is a ruse.

‘Chaps,’ says the man looking from Campbell to Steve and back again, ‘chaps I’m afraid I’ve just helped myself to your bloody champagne. What an absolute arse. I’m so sorry.’

The man raises hands in surrender, both clutching the offending articles. He hands the bottle to Steve and then looks back at Campbell.

‘Wrong bottle, so sorry. Come on. Let me get you a replacement,’ he says and he slides a hand onto Campbell’s shoulder and spins him around to the bar. ‘And let’s get you a proper bottle too. Bloody Moet!’

When at last Campbell returns from the bar, the magnum of Krug sent in replacement seems almost empty on the table, or so it seems, though it refills several more glasses as Campbell is welcomed back to his seat. Lisa is sitting talking to Justin now, as Campbell noticed she was ten minutes ago when he was locked in conversation with the square jawed champagne thief.

Steve is smiling up at him and makes space for him on the seat. He shakes his head.

‘This just happens with you Campbell. Scrapes and silliness and more drinking stories than I can fit in my little brain.’

‘The magnum was not my idea. The guy insisted.’

‘Oh, I know. I’m not having a moan. I’ll only regret this for a day or two. It’s been cracking.’

‘Has been good right? Sorry to unload on you again Steve.’

‘No bother. Long as it helps.’

‘What helps?’ asks Lisa leaning in from the other side.

Campbell looks around to note a retreating Justin who trots down the steps to the dance floor and throws himself into the melee with some style.

‘Someone else picking up the tab,’ says Campbell as he raises his glass.

‘You didn’t pay?’

‘Better than that. He hoodwinked some gimp into replacing our half bottle of Moet with a magnum of Krug,’ says Steve.

’Nicely done,’ concedes Lisa and she smiles at Campbell and lets the eye contact linger a moment. Just a moment. She lifts the bottle until she sees that it is empty.

‘Did you get some?’ he asks offering his own glass.

‘That’s OK. I think I’m probably all done.’

‘Yeah. I think I said that about an hour back.’

‘Actually,’ she says as she stands, ‘Not quite done.’

The words hang there and she looks at him so he stands.

‘You going to ask for my number Dan? I’m pretty much all out of meaningful glances and small talk.’

He pauses as he gathers his composure. ‘I was thinking I might just take you home.’

‘Really? That sounds like the kind of thing that makes me glad I have a rape alarm.’

‘Oh. Yeah OK, scary rather than suave. Sorry.’

‘You were going for suave?’

‘Not for a moment. Not even close,’ he says and then slides his phone from his pocket. ‘I’m just hoping that I can still get your number.’

She smiles and enters her details into the handset.

‘Bye Dan,’ she says and then heads for the door.

Campbell sits down and lifts his glass to his lips but his stomach turns and he admits to himself finally that the time to withdraw is now, and has been for some time.

At the cloakroom he fishes a ticket from his wallet and hands it across and as he waits for his coat he notes the fresh stiff business card that he slipped in there earlier, handed over by the champagne thief who talked rapid-fire at him about his job and the markets and all the valuable experience Campbell had and the opening at his office.

Giles Lawson. Scorpio Capital.

Campbell slips the card back into his wallet as his coat is handed over and he makes his way outside.

At the pavement he scans the road for cabs. He spots one coming but then notes the person a few yards closer waving it down. He trots over.

‘Hey!’ he calls. She turns.

‘I saw it first and I’ve been waiting ages,’ Lisa says.

‘Sharesies?’ says Campbell and she laughs and climbs in.

 

[]SIX

 

He has heard it said that behind every fortune there’s a crime.

He wouldn’t see it that way of course. He has long since dispensed with examining his conscience; considers such things quaint and indulgent. His ability to convince himself of his own hype is a good part of why he has got to where he is and why he’ll get where he is going.

This current low is merely part of the cycle and he knows well enough that when you play a high stakes game, you are sometimes going to lose a hand. But crisis is opportunity and you can’t have highs without lows, no peaks without troughs and that is after all, the business he is in. In the parlance of the financial markets, that point when things crash to the bottom is known as capitulation. But he has never given up, merely altered his strategy. He has reallocated his assets according to his needs and in adapting to this new reality, can plan again.

Indeed, he is already off the bottom and considers that he is into his own recovery phase. From here he has plans and targets, grand ambitions and a furious drive to achieve them. There will be casualties in reaching his goals. There always are. But it’s just business.

And a little personal.

This levelling of the scores that he expects to achieve will satisfy not just his wounded pride and that large painful bruise to his monstrous ego, but inject a sense of focus and motivation that will keep the plan on course.

The money will be enough for the others, as it so often is and finding those who will do his bidding so long as he bids high enough, is no problem. Sharks swim in the same circles and he knows which questions and who to ask and it took so little time to assemble them that he considers the next steps in the plan will follow suit, no matter how convoluted.

The sun is blazing outside, as so frequently it does here, and though he cannot see the ocean, he can smell it. Things have not turned out so badly for him, an outcome he congratulates himself on often, but he’s had to adapt to a situation of someone else’s making and his ego simply will not accept that. The loss of face was unbearable and will leave a scar but the whole thing could have proved fatal. That it has not, he considers not a lucky escape, not instructive in the ways it might have been. It has served merely to reinforce his sense of invincibility. He knows he is not infallible; such has been too clearly demonstrated for him. But he survived nonetheless and he believes now that what does not kill you only goes to show that you cannot be killed.

He has learned all the wrong lessons from his experience and he has but one thought that carries him through the days; revenge will be savage and searingly hot.

 

[]SEVEN

 

Six full miles door to door, Campbell’s journey to work, and he takes a masochistic approach to his hangover and runs all the way. He has a ten minute swim as an additional head-clearing measure and then gets to the office, beaten there only by a puffy-eyed Steve who notes the colour in Campbell’s cheeks and shakes his head.

‘Gym as well? Do you even sleep these days Dan?’

‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead,’ he responds and looks at his watch. ‘Which is in about two hours.’

Steve’s eyes close as if it is him that has to contend with an appraisal with the boss this morning. It is not, and Campbell is all too aware of the sensation that he is at once apprehensive but nonplussed by the prospect. Like he is worried that he isn’t worried.

There is much of the morning to mull on the significance of that and he manages to mostly convince himself that it’s merely a side effect of too much alcohol and not enough sleep. Otherwise, he is able to burrow into a pile of reading material that has been accruing on the wrong side of his desk.

For a while longer he does a good enough job of pushing away thoughts of the meeting that is to come that he is surprised when the moment arrives. His boss leans a shadow over his desk, clutching pad and pen.

‘You can pretend all you like, but it’s happening.’

‘Mr Gould. You cruel, cruel man,’ Campbell says as he stands.

‘You promised coffee, brought none, and have the gall to call me cruel. That’s the very first agenda item.’

Campbell smiles and grabs a pen and pad of his own, aware that these will almost certainly be no more than props, but he has a role in this to play and knows his lines.

In a square, nondescript meeting room the heavy door thunks shut as the two men slide into chairs across from each other. Campbell places his pad in front of him and drops the pen onto it.

Trevor Gould is several years his senior but is trim and smart and has a polished manner about him that tells of a man for whom career progression is a tightly scheduled plan. It is a source of bafflement for Campbell, a concept as alien to him as blackmail and violence once were, though he knows more of both now than he cares to.

He has been stumbling along through life these past years, ad-libbing a career as he goes. It is not that he doesn’t know what he must do to make more of himself, just that he doesn’t know how. He knows that it has something to do with discipline, something to do with application and that words like focus are important, that his punctuality is worth less than his attitude.

But whatever the trick is that allows you to get through the boredom and keep going, to resist the distractions and to actually give a damn and mean it, it is a trick he has not learned.

For Daniel Campbell, such is not what life is. Even before the incident he was more cruising than committing to whatever filled in the daytime hours that formed the gaps between his real life and sleeping. He worked to live, as it goes, not lived to work.

It took him a few moments to gauge that Gould had got in front of him on this point this morning and was leading with it.

‘Will I bother taking the cap off my pen?’ he asks him and Campbell considers that the hangover and the sleep deprivation have dulled his edges today.

‘Lots of boxes to tick,’ he replies and is brought up short as Gould cracks the pen flat on the desk with a sharp sound.

‘I still don’t know if you’re doing this on purpose, or you just haven’t figured it yet.’

Unsure what he should say, Campbell opts for silence.

‘I suppose you don’t have to be stupid to be in denial.’

‘I feel a little bit trapped by that. I can’t say I’m not in denial can I? Not without an irony overload,’ Campbell says hesitantly. ‘The thing is though…’

‘The thing is though that you really don’t know do you?’

‘I’m a little slow out the blocks this morning Trevor.’

‘Are you kidding me? Are we actually going to do this?’

The look on Gould’s face is anger melting into resignation as he registers Campbell’s own enduring confusion.

‘Daniel, the only thing we really need to discuss is when you go.’

‘When I…?’

‘Leave this organisation. Go. Exit. Depart,’ Gould says, trying to force the issue that he believes Campbell is ignoring, out into daylight.

‘This is… this is out of the blue a bit Trevor. And a little aggressive to be honest. Aren’t you supposed to give me a warning first?’

‘I’m not sacking you, for the love of God. Daniel, your head is out the door and has been for a long time and I don’t know if your heart was ever in it. I can live with the latter, I don’t expect people to love it. But I do expect people to at least pretend to want to be here.’

‘You think I want to leave?’ he says, slightly wounded. But even as he catches that inflection in his own voice he is thinking of a snatched conversation from the champagne thief, whose card nestles in his wallet even now.

‘I’m not sure you know you want to yet, because you seem not to spend too much time thinking on it, but I know that you don’t actually want to stay. The quicker you connect those dots the quicker we can all get on with our lives.’

When his mind snags and catches on the truth of Gould’s assertion Campbell is equal parts shocked and certain of it. That such a thing should lie hidden from him in plain sight so long clears his head more effectively than the six mile run in the cold morning air and the swim that followed. He has a sudden jarring clarity and it unsettles him.

‘Dan, I don’t want to lose you. Frankly you are the best guy on the team. But sometimes you’re a liability as well. Remember Mablethorpe’s?’

Campbell nodded. He remembered it well. For two hours he and two colleagues, Gould included, had sat through a presentation by the CFO of a leading oil services firm which had included every piece of management-speak and obfuscation that had ever been uttered.

After one ‘going forwards’ too many Campbell had thrust a hand out as the man looked in his direction and before he’d had a moment to pause mid-sentence Campbell had said, ‘This is all bullshit though isn’t it? So there’s not so much going forwards as sliding backwards really.’

The scarlet cheeks of the enraged CFO were matched only by Gould’s cringing embarrassment and but for a strikingly accurate and insightful report that Campbell had delivered by the following morning he might have been on a warning.

‘That guy was talking bullshit though. And I apologised to him in writing as well as over the phone.’

‘I’m not going to dignify that with a response.’

Campbell shrugged and examined the table in front of him.

‘Three times I’ve had you re-submit reports because they’ve been too tersely critical or borderline contemptuous, and I’ve lost count of the number of times you have rolled your eyes behind the back of a Chief Exec or an MD, or hardly bothered to stifle a yawn.’

‘I do more of those reports and meetings than anyone else and they’re all the same.’

‘You do more of those than anyone because you’re supposed to be a step away from Senior Analyst and are on the pay grade for it and because that is your job,’ Gould’s voice rose as the anger bubbled up and he bit it back before he resumed. ‘And they are not all the same, they are all designed to look the same in order that the subtle differences stand out and sniffing out those differences is…’

‘My job. I know.’

‘I’ve seen plenty of good people drift into cul de sacs and wander around like a tourist in the fog trying to figure out where they are and where they’re going. I hoped you might snap out of it once you were back in the job for a while. I thought that the travel thing was still distracting you. But then it was the caving or the diving or the bloody white-collar boxing.’

‘Plenty of people,’ Campbell began defensively, ‘have hobbies outside work. I thought that was supposed to be a good thing. You’re actually in training for the marathon aren’t you?’

‘I am. I am in training for the marathon, but at no point will I be telling senior company executives that they talk shit in front of a room full of people.’

Campbell silently accepts the rebuke.

‘My point is, none of those things were the answer. They’re just symptoms. They’re just you trying find an outlet, or a way to relieve the boredom. But they don’t seem to be doing that do they? So it’s decision time.’

He nods, eyes glazed and distant. He is thinking of that pristine business card with its clean script and the stars of the constellation picked out around the word Scorpio.

Gould sighs and Campbell can see that the frustration was supposed to have been kept in check, that Gould had been building up to this and had seen it going differently. The man was faced with losing the best man on his team, and not just that, but he was actually having to push him out the door. That can’t have been easy.

’Can I think on it?’ said Campbell.

’Take all the time you need,’ replied Gould. ’Shouldn’t be long.’

 

 

[]EIGHT

 

He will call her but it will not be today. Campbell knows that his head is too full of things that will distract him and muddle his thinking and he wants to be relaxed and sharp when he calls her, unflustered.

He considers that seeing her may provide a distraction of its own, that he may focus his energies elsewhere for a few hours but then he pictures their conversation slipping into a lull and then turning to work to ease the silence. He considers the idea that talking to someone with no real knowledge of him or his life might offer perspective and clarity and he imagines an easy, familiar conversation developing, warm and cosy.

Where’s the fun in that?

His decision made, he can move on. There is a stack of reports on his desk and clogging his email inbox that need to be read and analysed but they are thick with charts and numbers and he cannot penetrate their content nor divine any meaning. Not in this frame of mind.

He takes tea breaks and a long lunch, tries to force the day to end but it just slides and trickles past at its own pace and when he hits the gym at six pm he does so with a vigour and aggression that is designed to either chase away the frustration that grates and drags at him, or burn it away.

But nothing will work today for Daniel Campbell and so when he returns home he eats a simple meal, turns music on loud, then turns it off again and stares at the wall, then at the back of his eyelids. There will be no running from this, he will not be allowed to shake it off. He must simply think it through and try to be honest with himself and try to make the right decision.

But what scares Campbell is the thought that he doesn’t really know himself anymore. All these things he has done – all these things he does – they have changed him. Or have they simply been designed to give that impression, to everyone as well as himself?

It has been three years now since it happened. He refers to it as ’the incident’ and he has spoken to close friends about the gatecrasher and all that followed; the threats and violence, all the wounds he received, physical and mental, the scars they left. More recently he has found himself talking of it with other people, less close. This has its own risks given what he was caught up in, but there is something pushing him to take risks.

In the months after it happened he was so disoriented, so off the rails, in trying to readjust. He had been through every kind of emotion, faced dangers and risks inside a few weeks that most people would never encounter in their lifetime. Having been sucked under so deep, to return to the surface the way he had was like getting the bends.

It took six weeks before he was sat down and told to consider his future, two more before he was granted a sabbatical and another two before he was on a plane with a passport, a backpack and no plan.

He threw himself into it from the start. He tried as best he could to get off the tourist trails and avoid the crowds, but soon found that sometimes the best place to get lost is in a crowd. There were beach parties and bar crawls, there were friends made and lost inside a night and breathless, frantic one night stands with women whose names he never even learned.

He slept in comfortable hotel rooms, on the floors of coach stations, but never on the planes or trains or buses that always gave him a show out the windows of the new places he was travelling through. So often, he found, that it was the journey he enjoyed most, not the destination.

In Dhaka, Bangladesh he’d had to bribe a security guard at the hotel to let him out into the night to explore the local area after his passport had been held at the airport during a stopover. Sometimes you want to see the world but it doesn’t want you to see it and when you do, you understand why. Walking alone in those streets he had understood why people attached the word ’stricken’ to the word ’poverty’.

He did three bungee jumps, white water rafting twice and managed to take crash courses in both skiing and scuba diving barely two weeks apart. The latter had been a bug he caught and not just because he was one of only two men in a group of ten learning to dive. The eight women were in a group, all friends and all under twenty five. He’d enjoyed that week immensely, but still managed to stay focused on the diving enough to get his Open Water qualification and fall in love with the whole new world down there.

He’d come back leaner and fitter and the nine months and twelve countries he’d visited (one by accident, having strayed across a border whilst trekking in a South East Asian jungle) had given him a taste for adrenaline and thrill-seeking that felt as though it had been missing, although it had never been there before.

He felt different in ways that he could not define or explain, felt out of place in his own home, his own skin. He found himself increasingly restless and impatient, unable to switch off. He was uncomfortable sitting still and found that he operated on less sleep, like sleeping was simply wasting the opportunity to do something else.

Not to mention the things that lurked there, in sleep, waiting to surface from the depths every so often and assail him.

For a long while he did not talk of it at all, what happened. He’d fought so hard to get out of the hole he found himself in, to find some peace, but although it was all over, somehow the peace eluded him. Even now, when he put the brave face on for people and talked about it in as blasé a manner as he could muster, when he ran or worked out or travelled, it felt like that place of pre-incident tranquillity he’d been looking to get back to was still out of reach. Or that it simply wasn’t there anymore.

That thought helped as he reflected on his professional dilemma. He worried that to jump ship now was just another attempt to run from something, and that he wasn’t getting closer to where he wanted to be in life, just further from where he didn’t, which is not the same thing at all. But the idea that he was chasing the wrong thing, that he was stalking thirsty through the desert after a mirage, buoyed him up. Maybe this wasn’t more running away, simply a change of direction. Perhaps what was needed was a new approach to things, a different destination. A different destination would mean a different journey too, and that was the part he enjoyed most of the time.

 

[]NINE

 

Caspar Hogg likes this room. It is comfortable and well ventilated, which means that when the hours slide into days and he loses all track of time, as so frequently he does, then it doesn’t start to stink so quickly as in his last place.

The last place had a sagging sofa with flat exhausted cushions, it had a small bed in the next room and a broken air-con unit that worked on minimum or maximum and nowhere in between.

This place though, this place is what Hogg knows is referred to by people who talk about such things as ‘well-appointed’. Quality soft furnishings and efficient, functioning ventilation and climate control that is computer-operated. He likes that. He appreciates the simple, defined parameters of such things. He likes boundaries and rules and objectivity.

The old place had neighbours and a landlord. It had an unreliable electrical supply and terrible broadband. The new place is all hooked up with fibre-optic ultra-fast Wi-Fi. It is networked and never ever blows a fuse when he’s running too many machines. There is no such thing here as too many machines, just too few of him and his furious typing and mouse-clicks.

They send him a cleaner twice a week who says nothing to him ever, but wears a tight fitting uniform and a bra which is two-sizes too small so that her breasts seem to divide into four. Which doesn’t stop him leering for a moment, of course, but he knows better than to do any more than that.

They’d not take kindly to such ingratitude but that’s not why he subdues any urges he feels when he sees her hips swaying through the doorway, or the reflection in one of the screens when she bends down to pick something up off the floor, and there is always something to pick up off the floor.

He does nothing because she would be repulsed and he needs no reminding of that fact. It doesn’t make him angry or resentful, doesn’t fill him with a vengeful rage. It makes him sad.

This job though, with all these wonderful perks and trimmings, this makes him happy. So he contents himself with a lingering gaze at her round backside and her squashed-in bosom and he banks the image in his head for later.

There is a mini-fridge in the room for his cold Cokes and cold beers. The plates and the food and the microwave stay in the kitchen and when he can find a break from a coding session or a gaming binge he gets himself in there and he cooks some real food, with fresh ingredients.

It isn’t that he’s lazy or slovenly so much as it is that he devotes no effort to those things he doesn’t enjoy and he has a preternatural capacity for focusing on those things that grip and fascinate him. Coding does that. Beating the challenges that they set him, or coming up with the solutions that nobody else thinks exist.

He thinks a lot, has the privacy to do so uninterrupted and without the pollution of other people’s rancid ideas. When they request features and functions for their network, he delivers them fast but then spends hours on breaking them so he knows where to make them stronger.

The remit is quite bespoke and with the amount of money and secrecy that surrounds it, the things he’s signed, the clear and obvious consequences he faces for breaching their terms or their trust, he concludes that he is working for a major international financial institution, an intelligence organisation, or something quite different from both of those. He supposes that the latter is a more sinister and frightening proposition to consider, but then, the other two are hardly known for their friendly and tolerant approach to the little man, so if it is some criminal enterprise, it makes little difference to him.

He won’t mess with them though, whoever they are, because he likes the gig, they treat him well enough and he fears that he may be a dead man if he does.

 

[]TEN

 

The business card is thick and brilliant white on the front, black on the reverse. The name is spelled out in glossy black ink, which appears simply to sit on that plush white surface. Stars are arranged in that same black ink around the name of the company, in the constellation it represents, and then as Campbell drops it to the table he spots something else. Made out in a gloss white that stands out from the lightly textured card only when the light reflects off the smooth lines, are lines that connect the stars and complete a stylised drawing of a scorpion.

Giles Lawson. Scorpio Capital.

He reads it again, reads the Mayfair address and the minimalist email address, [email protected] He flips it over and notes that same stylish design of black gloss ink making out a scorpion against the matt black background.

He knows a hundred different company names, all the hedge funds and investment houses and research consultancies that have centuries old names, or brand new variations that seem to be the conjunction of more than one word, or some strange sort of cod-Latin inventions. They invoke concepts and images, just as they are designed to, in the mind of the target market. They suggest at dynamism and energy, at wisdom and experience and often are little more than the result of some ‘brain-storming’ session in a plush office or even plusher wine bar.

The use of names of stars or planets is hardly a new idea but nevertheless, there is something about this that makes Daniel Campbell feel a pinch of excitement, something about the card and its stylish, almost hidden design that makes him think that Giles Lawson and Scorpio Capital are actually pretty cool.

Lawson’s phone rings out and goes to voicemail and since it is late in the day on a Friday, Campbell figures he has most of the weekend to fret over the message he left and how it might be greeted. He does not expect a call back, not out of hours. Not until Monday when he’s at his desk avoiding eye contact with his boss, feeling guilty about the call he’s waiting for despite the fact he’s doing precisely what he’s been told to do.

Then at 8, as he unpacks some groceries in the kitchen and pops the cap off a chilled beer, the mobile chirrups in his pocket.

‘Daniel Campbell.’

‘No less. The Krug drinking maniac!’

It is hard to be certain he recognises the voice since he only knows it from a near-shouted conversation in a nightclub, the worse for wear both of them.

‘Ha! Not tonight.’

‘Moet is it?’ laughs Lawson and Campbell’s finding himself suddenly nervous and excited and intimidated all at once.

‘Lager actually,’ is all he can manage.

‘Good man. Got the message. Take it you want to talk a bit more. What we said the other night? About that?’

‘Yeah, been thinking about doing something different for a while. And you said to call.’

‘Indeed I did. Did I offer you a job last time? Can’t remember a lot. I know I had a bar tab as big as my hangover next day!’

‘Yeah, big night,’ Campbell replies and is aware that if chit chat and small talk are important to winning this man over, he’s coming up short.

‘Always. So what’s the gig then chap? Sit rep?’

Sit rep? Campbell paused for a moment wondering if he’d misheard. No, this guy just talked like that. Situation report. Was he ex-military or something? A lot of guys he’d met in the industry were, although Lawson had struck him as fairly young for that.

‘Like I say. Looking to make a change. Boss knows I want to and he’s cool about it. Just trying to figure out what to change to.’

‘OK, sweet. Look I know what you do and I like how you do it. Heard a little bit about you from a few mates in the City. Heard you like telling company CFO’s to cut the bullshit.’

‘Well that’s not strictly-’

‘Not the way I hear it. Great work pal. We need someone to do that at our place. Got a mate in a big bank says they’re looking for decent compliance guys but unless I’ve lost all of my instincts, that’s not exactly where I see you.’

‘Compliance? No, not my thing really.’

‘Good lad. So howsabout us then? Howsabout Scorpio?’

‘I… uh… I don’t know loads about you if I’m honest. Just the basics.’

‘We make rich men bankrupt all day long and then we go out and screw their wives at night.’

He says nothing at this, has nothing to say.

‘Too much? OK, I am of course just mucking about and talking it up Dan. What we do is simple. Two things; we make a filthy amount of money, and then we go and spend it.’

He laughs nervously. ‘I may be a little inexperienced.’

Lawson gives a good throaty laugh. ‘Nice. No experience necessary. Learn on the job what you don’t already know. Make up the rest.’

‘Put it like that, maybe I’m a little over-qualified.’

‘What you up to now? At work?’

‘Erm no,’ he says and though it is after eight, he feels suddenly guilty that he isn’t at his desk.

‘Oh right, you said you were having a beer. In town?’

‘Home actually, just got in.’

'Quiet one? On a Friday? Forget that. Come meet us. Come down to-' the phone goes muffled as Lawson consults his companions as to their whereabouts, '- you know Pandora? Off Berkeley Square?'

He hesitates again.

‘Er, I… I was…’

‘Dan, you have a job interview at 9. Pandora, Mayfair. Dress right and be on time.’

Minutes later, he stands in the shower under scalding hot water and sinks the cold beer with closed eyes. Technically that went better than he was expecting. Technically.

 

 

[]ELEVEN

 

What do you wear to a job interview that both is and is not a job interview? What do you wear to a bar in Mayfair that you’ve only seen in the gossip pages of the newspapers with major football stars and minor royals heading in and out?

Campbell’s not even sure he’ll get past the door what with the queue and the security operation.

He lingers on the pavement across the road for a moment. He has filled his wallet from the cashpoint and has thrown on a black shirt, his most expensive jeans and some beaten up brown shoes. Over this a pinstriped suit jacket, that he will decide whether to keep hold of or dump at the cloakroom once he sees Lawson and his group and can size up the appropriate sartorial approach.

He heads for the rear of the queue, knowing that though he has arrived with a few minutes to spare, the actual getting in may take longer than the getting here.

At the door there are two solid looking men in long black cashmere coats and high-tech headsets, who say nothing and see everything. There is a woman in a stylish dress and heels that must make her six feet tall, and who holds a clipboard and a fixed expression of warmth and openness that is completely devoid of sincerity. Campbell watches as three people he does not recognise approach her, then tap at something on her clipboard before she waves them past the large men in black cashmere. After a moment he realises why the fact they weren’t familiar was significant. He expected celebs.

He looks at his watch again. Nine, dead on.

‘Screw it,’ he says and steps out from the queue and heads for the woman.

She amplifies the fake smile and he clocks one of the two bouncers watching his approach.

‘Hello, how are you?’ he says to the woman.

‘Very good, sir. Are you enjoying your evening?’

‘Indeed. Indeed.’

The smile seems almost aggressive, almost a challenge and all the while the clipboard stays clasped to her, completely concealed.

‘I’m actually with some people,’ Campbell nods toward the door.

She doesn’t even bother to reply. Just nods and raises an eyebrow.

He stumbles for a moment, then a moment longer as he sees the other bouncer look at him and move a step forward. He points at the door and then taps at her clipboard which does not give at all, as though fixed in place.

‘In there… I mean… I don’t know whose name it would be under. Like the company name or… ‘

She keeps smiling the smile at him – through him – and nods again. She will not be surrendering any clues or assistance.

‘Scorpio. Could be under Scorpio. Or Lawson. Giles Lawson.’

She scans the clipboard and then as one of the bouncers moves a little closer and communicates with her in a way that is impossible to hear or understand, she turns slightly and shakes her head. I can handle this.

Campbell sees some words on the paper, tries to scan quickly. She moves back into position.

‘Sir-’ she begins but he’s seen it. A name he knows, or at least, a name he has picked up from his cursory research on Scorpio Capital. A name from their website.

‘Piers Burlingham. The table’s in Piers’ name.’ Blurted out and hurried it would have lacked conviction. But Campbell had authority in his voice and calm assurance, like it had been on the tip of his tongue all along.

She peered down again at her clipboard and then looked up at him with a look that conceded defeat with grace. ‘They’re on the mezzanine,’ she said and stepped aside.

His plan, such as there was one, was to scout around the place in the hope of seeing them from a distance. From there he could gauge what the mood was, how formal he needed to be, how many people were in the group. He was hoping he could lose his jacket which was making him feel self-conscious, like he was trying too hard, and that he would find Giles with maybe just one or two colleagues or even just some non-Scorpio friends. He was hoping that the tone Lawson had taken on the phone was in fact in jest but he was mindful of the time and the instruction not to be late. And then, before he could make even a half lap of the club, a hand clamped on his shoulder.

‘No way guy! You made it. You actually got here.’

He span round to see Lawson smiling broadly at him.

‘Weird place for an interview.’

‘And you’re on time too!’ said Lawson.

Campbell shrugs.

‘How did you get in the door? This place is harder to get into than the Pavilion at Lords.’

‘I gave them Piers’ name.’

‘How do you know Piers?’

‘I don’t really. Just his name. Saw it on the website.’

‘That’s tremendous work. We should give you the job just for that. Top blag!’ Lawson raises a hand for Campbell to high-five, which he does with some reservation. He’s an odd character Lawson, kind of full-on and unselfconscious. He says things like “sitrep” and gives high fives in the middle of one of the most exclusive clubs in London. Campbell wonders whether he’s getting himself involved with people that are not his kind of people, but then considers that is precisely what he has decided he should be doing. The comfort-zone has not been working for him, not for a long time.

Lawson slides a hand across his shoulders and leads him through a narrow passage, up some stairs and to a bar. He listens to Lawson deliver a drink order to a woman who is as beautiful as any he has ever laid eyes on and then watches as Lawson climbs two stainless steel rungs of the nearby balcony and gestures at a group twenty yards away. Shortly they are joined by another man who looks just like Lawson. The same sharp-dressed, slick-haired look. Red ruddy cheeks and a posh accent that has Campbell picturing childhoods of expensive education and live-in domestic help.

Piers Burlingham has an accent more plummy even than Lawson and employs a similar range of slang terms amidst the well-spoken delivery that Campbell finds distracting, like an attempt to play down the poshness by using vernacular rather than simply flattening their vowels a little and dropping the occasional H.

They stand at the bar and sip at long drinks in elaborately tall, flute-like glasses that Campbell struggles with. He doesn’t want to drink from the straw which makes him feel at once both child-like and effeminate, but the length and narrowness of the glass itself seems as though drinking is the last thing it was designed for. The other two sip at theirs with an effortless insouciance which serves only to make Campbell even more aware of the gulf between himself and the world these men represent.

He feels acutely the simple functionality of his state education, the university that held an annual Ball for its students rather than seasonal ones, the social circles that they move in that involve attending cricket matches rather than football, where shooting birds is something that friends invite you to do on a weekend, rather than pulling them. He knows that these people have grown up in houses where the study and the guest bedroom are not the same thing.

He ventures his observation about pulling birds not shooting them and both of them snigger.

’Chap, both much the same you know,’ Piers gestures with an eyebrow and Campbell nods but in truth he doesn’t know.

’Giles, nice,’ Burlingham raises a hand and Lawson meets it mid-air. ’Guy,’ he says turning the flat palm into a pointing finger whilst keeping it raised, ’talk to me. Tell me about Dan the Man.’

For a split second Campbell ponders responding with ’And who the hell is Dan the Man?’ but plays along instead. Over the top they may be, but this is a job interview, or at least, he must try to treat it like one so far as the circumstances allow. Perhaps this overblown act is just that; an act. Perhaps all this is a test he is required to pass, without being put off by their accents and their easy sexism.

He reels off a job description and dresses it up with some examples of his finer moments when prompted by both men. Burlingham asks most of the questions, like Lawson knows most of this from their first meeting and has more or less made up his mind. Campbell for his part tries not to get too distracted when he notices his own attempts to exaggerate, knowing that he is not naturally given over to doing so, but is finding himself something of a slave to this situation, not its master. His accent occasionally drifts a notch or two in their direction, subconsciously imitating them, and he has to make an effort to reign it back. They might notice and think of less of him for doing it. He certainly does.

He talks for maybe twenty minutes before he finds a point at which he can turn it back on the other two and asks what it is exactly that he might be doing if they took him on.

Lawson takes over and begins describing something vague and yet dramatic sounding. He calls Campbell a ’deal-finder’ and then later a ’point-man’ and after the other man talks for more than Campbell did about himself he begins to get the sense that it might not be too dissimilar to his own job. Research, in the main. Digging out information, sorting the facts from the corporate spin, condensing data down into usable information. But where currently his employer simply produces this analysis and research in order to sell it on to whoever will pay, this will be in-house and purely for the benefit of people like Giles Lawson to go out and do deals with, to buy or sell companies, or chunks of them. He picks up terms like leverage and arbitrage, and others that he doesn’t understand. But he remembers Lawson’s words earlier; learn on the job, and make the rest up.

’OK, enough shop talk. It’s Friday night,’ Lawson announces and Campbell follows the two men up more stairs and across a landing toward a roped-off area with plush, upholstered booths. The hostess smiles them in, just as beautiful as the girl behind the bar, and Lawson leans in and says something to her that Campbell can’t catch over the music.

They move to a booth and there is a slightly overwhelming blur of introductions to a group of people whose names he instantly forgets. Ordinarily being introduced to a table full of strangers would be enough to make him awkward, but in this place, with a gaggle of TV soap opera stars at the next booth and a new job in the balance, he’s so far adrift from his comfort zone that it almost makes him giddy. He’s only managed the one drink and that did more to wind him tight what with the difficulty in drinking from the glass, than the alcohol did to relax him.

Edgy as he is, the next thing hits him like a broadside.

’I was wondering if you might call,’ she says.

’Lisa…’ he says, staring at her, but then the mouth and the brain disengage, lose contact. What’s she doing here?

She smiles at him as she shifts over a little to let him sit.

’I… What…?’ he stumbles again and reflects that he has left a lot of sentences unfinished of late.

’I can’t decide if you coming down here to see me in person is touching or scary.’ The penny begins to drop as he realises what this must mean. She works at Scorpio. That’s why she was there that night. She was out with Giles and presumably some of the others now looking and smiling at him now.

’No, that’s not…’ he begins but then decides that it might actually be best to leave that sentence unfinished as well. ‘Touching is what it is, don’t you think? Not scary. Not me.’

Her face is unreadable for a while and the thought occurs to him that not only might he have blown it with Lisa before anything had happened between them, but that on top of the intense strangeness of this whole situation – the posh-boys and their drunk friends, the job interview in the exclusive nightclub with the celebs at the next table – on top of that, he’d now have to sit next to a resentfully jilted woman as well.

When she smiles at him she puts the hostess and the barmaid entirely in the shade. He’s mightily relieved that she’s not holding a grudge, that she isn’t the type to be too bothered by waiting a couple of days for a call and punish him for it. But it’s more than just the relief that makes her smile illuminate his night. Lisa is several times more attractive than he remembers her.

’Well,’ she says and picks up her drink. ’This just got interesting.’

 

[]TWELVE

 

Caspar Hogg watched her leave with an expression that tried to say that he was as embarrassed as she was but really, that was not possible. His own humiliation was far more acute.

The cleaner had done her usual rounds and then about half way through, there had been an awkward moment where she had needed to reach up to wipe over the shelves above and to the left of him and retrieve some discarded noodle cartons and as she stretched, a button on her dress had popped off, right at the bust.

The timing was awful for both of them as Caspar had found himself unable to resist a glance to his left where her bosom was at eye-level at that precise moment. The dress opened a few inches, nothing dramatic, but he was afforded a clear view of her cleavage, of the slightly off-white cotton lace, and the squeezed curve of her breast where the too small bra failed in its purpose.

She reacted immediately and with horror, clasping her arm across her chest and looking right at him and his own eye line. She stepped quickly away and said something in Spanish that sounded, merely by its tone, like an exclamation.

Hogg dropped his gaze and flushed scarlet, suddenly feeling as though it weren’t just that he’d been busted staring at her chest, but that the popping button was somehow his doing.

She muttered something else to the back of his head and bustled out of the door and Hogg turned at the last moment to say something – an apology or a protest, he’d not even got as far as deciding – but the words were as slow in coming as the cleaner was fast in leaving.

He could feel his heart going a little quicker and noticed that his fists were clenched tight. Hogg stood and paced a moment, breathing slowly to regain his composure. He felt the warmth in his cheeks and went to the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face, surprised and annoyed to find that something so trivial had effected him this way. It wasn’t as if there had been some developing relationship between them, some nascent romance that fate had decided to snatch away. They were scarcely on speaking terms.

But that reaction, the instinctive withdrawal from him, was all too familiar.

Hogg regarded himself in the mirror, turned his head slightly and leaned closer. The red wine stain birth mark extended in a broad sweep from his chin to his forehead, ending in a coarse patch of skin half way up the side if his nose and vanishing beneath his hairline at the temple on the other side. Close up it looked a little patchy and uneven, and the skin looked dimpled and irregular in places, smooth and even in others.

He wiped the water from his face and then held a hand up to cover that side of his face so just the clear side was visible. He’d done this often as a child, partly as a means to remind himself that he was normal, when so many of the other kids said otherwise, but partly just to see what he’d look like. He’d started doing it with a mirror held up to the centre line of his face and look at the reflection. The clear side reflected in the mirror gave an image of what he might have looked like without the birth mark. Later this had developed to producing incredibly detailed images on the computer of himself with the whole thing digitally removed.

He had started with a simple bit of alteration on a desktop picture editor on a picture he had uploaded for a social network profile – an irony not lost on him, social networking – and then he had ended up with whole albums of retouched photographs – holiday snaps, school pictures, his graduation, Christmas and birthdays. All fresh faced and flawless, all cute-as-a-button or straight-out handsome.

Discovering this, that Caspar Hogg was a good looking man, or would have been had things turned out different, had left him cold.

There had been those adolescent feelings of anger and resentment at the world that something so patently unfair should be visited so randomly upon Caspar and not the next boy, a growing sense of isolation and of being quite clearly, definably different, even if he came to understand that difference was so palpably skin-deep, so superficial.

But then as he’d grown up he’d come to appreciate that fact and accepted it. The mark was merely on the surface and he had no health problems, had loving parents and a comfortable life, higher education paid for.

Caspar had developed an understanding that would elude even those closest to him. They would assure him that it was not important, that it was his character that mattered, even that they didn’t even see it really, not anymore, not once they knew the person underneath.

But he knew better. Knew why they used that word: underneath. Because even if they insisted that they didn’t see it, that word gave the lie to their words.

And anyway, Caspar saw it.

It was just there, on his face. Like a big nose, or a receding hair line. There was no changing it, no covering up.

But as much as he had come to accept it, even to understand that when people said that it was personality that counted, that his personality was shaped by it, because it was shaped by the way people reacted to it, looked at it, almost the way they spoke to it, rather than to him.

It was a part of him and not just in the superficial sense. Not just physically.

Down the years he had been forced to accept that people would treat him that bit differently, they would tease him or ignore him, or worse, they would pity him for it, like this different facial coloration were in some way a disability. He’d faced rejection from the opposite sex in ways that ranged from revulsion to patronising dismissal and it had all slowly worn away at him, waves at the cliff face.

Slowly Caspar had withdrawn into himself, to a place where there was only indifference and resignation. He felt no simmering resentment or festering anger. Things just were. Caspar just was.

He didn’t care much about who he spent time with, or that he spent increasing amounts of time by himself, but that was not to say he liked being alone. He didn’t care about keeping fit or looking good and well dressed, but that didn’t mean he’d ever enjoyed the way people looked at him or treated him. He’d long since left behind the sense of gloom and depression that such things would sometimes lead to, but he’d never managed to shed the sense of social awkwardness.

He didn’t much care either what he did to earn money, just that he used what he was good at to earn it and earn enough that he could dispense with money worries.

It was not right to say he was a nihilist, that he cared for nothing and no one, because he liked watching movies and on-line gaming and he read books and listened to music and all of it gave him happiness and some of it even excited him.

But it felt like there was something missing in Caspar Hogg, something that had been removed, or worn away.

 

 

[]THIRTEEN

 

Early on Tuesday morning, letting public transport get him to work, rather than his tired legs, Campbell feels a familiar buzz in his pocket and fishes the smartphone out to check. It’s an email and when he opens it sees that it is from [email protected]

’Wicked night Friday. You’re already a bit of a ledge round these parts for the door blag. Looking to work up a package for you. We’ll meet soon for coffee.’

So there it is. Not only had he not blown the big chance, they seemed to be offering him a job without the need for a more formal interview, office-based and during daylight hours.

Also, by his recollection, he didn’t embarrass himself with Lisa either. Though he will need to tread more carefully there.

The fact that they might be workmates will certainly not make things any simpler.

When he’d confided in Steve during Monday lunchtime, Steve had seemed almost as shocked as he had been to hear about Lisa’s appearance at the club. In fact he’d been more surprised to hear that than the whole revelation about Campbell’s intention to quit and move on.

’I suppose it makes sense,’ he’d pointed out as Steve shook his head and ate his sandwich. ’That’s why she was there that first time. She was out with work mates. I just didn’t realise that she worked with Giles.’

’The champagne guy?’

’Mmm,’ Campbell nodded. ’I don’t think the other one was there that night, just Friday.’

’The other one is called Piers? Giles and Piers? Christ Dan. What are you getting into?’

’I know. I mean they were proper private-school, old-money types you know? But with a bit of a chip on the shoulder about it. Like they enjoyed being above everyone but seemed to be trying to be ironic about it too,’ Campbell said, searching for a way to describe them.

’Well they sound like a blast.’ Steve’s sarcasm was obvious, though not too pointed.

’To be fair after the work chat they were ok. I mean the club was amazing, I didn’t lay out for a drink all night and they were nailing bottles of Grey Goose. Whole bottles, brought to the table in big ice buckets by some geezer in this weird military style uniform and a scary mask. It was nuts.’

’And some cast members from Eastenders sitting next to you too. Awesome,’ he said and widened his eyes in mock amazement, the sarcasm this time far more pointed.

’Yeah, I know, it’s all bullshit really and stupid money. But it’s kind of cool on someone’s else’s tab.’

’OK. I’ll give you that. I’ll concede in fact, it’s probably the coolest job interview I’ve heard of. Just, you know, don’t get taken in. Go for the job, or the opportunity, not the pretty girl and the VIP booth.’

Campbell waved his concerns away, not because he didn’t share them, but because he did and had no need to have them spelled out for him.

In the day since that conversation Campbell had done plenty of thinking. This message from Lawson was what he was hoping for. He wanted to hear that he was still in the running for something new and exciting, and past the flash club and the drinks on expenses, the things that Lawson had described sounded like a step change from his current role. Getting to hear more from him in a more sober, low-key and preferably low-volume setting would give him a chance to ask some questions and not just about the money or the benefits package and the opportunity for career-progression. He wanted to hear about the day-to-day, about the drudgery and the slog and what they all did when they weren’t buying £300 bottles of vodka in exclusive Mayfair clubs where paparazzi lingered on the pavement.

He tapped out a brief response and hit send. Things were happening.

 

[]FOURTEEN

 

Dusan Rajkovic spent a few moments pondering how odd a pairing the two of them made and then dismissed it. In a place like this, playground of the super rich, awash with money, all hot and dirty dollars, pounds and euros and home to so many thousands of company headquarters and so many of them with such suspiciously small premises, there were plenty of odd looking people. It was not unusual here, to look unusual.

The Malay was used to the heat, though it was a little less humid than he was accustomed to. Nonetheless, he was dressed in black from head to toe. Fresh pressed slacks, loafers, large framed sunglasses, although he had done without the suit jacket today Rajkovic noted, in acknowledgement of the heat, and settled instead on a black silk shirt. It was nothing more than an effort to disguise his corpulent frame. Dusan had heard some of the men mocking his sartorial choices as though they were intended to be sinister. But Dusan knew better.

He had teased him on the flight in, insisting that they establish a cover for themselves so say to pass under their target’s radar. Rajkovic had insisted that he’d be alert to any danger and on his guard, even after three years, and so they would need to do some sunbathing, drink from glasses with umbrellas in, hire some waverunners perhaps. The sunglasses had been removed and placed on the tray table at the mention of Stingray City. Rajkovic saw no need to stop there. The signal to do so was clear enough, but he was having fun.

’It’s this place out on a sandbank. Lots of stingrays. Tame almost. A whole swarm of them, they come up and press up against your legs like cats. You feed them,’ he’d said staring intently out of the window so as not to betray his obvious delight at the rise he was getting from his boss.

’Dusan,’ came the soft reproach.

’Like a big flat cat with flaps. Cat flaps! Ha!’

’I’ll feed you to a fucking cat, you don’t shut up.’

He turned his head and smiled at the other man and his stiff expression. There was a smile in there somewhere but Dusan figured on leaving it there, just in case it was buried deeper than he thought.

‘OK Hari, we have no fun, have it your way,’ he said and then explained what they would be doing.

Standing now on the sprawling threshold of the hotel Dusan undid a button on his white linen shirt and spotted the cab rolling along the driveway and sweeping up in front of them.

They climbed in and directed the driver to the nearest car rental place where they picked up a nondescript silver grey Ford Focus and headed into the centre of town.

Rajkovic found the street, picked a shaded spot and then cranked up the air con anyway. He reclined his seat a few notches and switched on the radio, flicking it back off again as he noted the slow head-turn of Hari next to him.

‘We wait?’ he asked.

‘We wait,’ replied Dusan and then pointed to one of the older style houses in the row, nestling amid a well-tended lawn in the shadow of a more modern construction next to it, a full three stories taller.

‘He lives here?’

‘Lives. Works,’ Rajkovic shrugged. ‘Don’t care. Seen here several times. We see him. We know.’

The other man unfastened his cuffs and rolled his sleeves up and then settled in to watch the building in silence, the sunglasses firmly in place.

 

[]FIFTEEN

 

Impatience was a corrosive element that he tried his best to eliminate but he had been so many years with his head ducked down below the parapet that his well developed discipline was wearing thin.

He wanted to stop looking over his shoulder, or paying other men to do it for him, and then wondering whether they would find a bigger reason to betray him when they were inside his circle of trust. He wasn’t even sure that was the correct term. There was really very little trust to be had, only an intricately constructed network of men and money that so far had not fallen in on itself. If he paid them enough, they did his bidding.

Enough was a relative term and he ensured that none of them knew what any of the others received, but made sure that neither did they feel short-changed. It was important they feel as though their efforts were worthwhile and rewarded but that more could be had with a little extra application, a continued show of loyalty.

The corner that he had been painted into by the young man who had proved a surprisingly resourceful adversary, was not one easily escaped. But he’d eased himself in and out of so many awkward situations down the years that he’d found himself relishing the challenge in time. Not at first, not with his pride bruised, his money burnt and his reputation so filthy. But he came to see that the scam he had been orchestrating before that downfall was just another well-run scheme, oiled and engineered just right and inside his comfort zone.

He’d had to lie to people who trusted him, coerce those who didn’t and threaten anyone else who crossed his path. None of which proved especially testing of his natural aptitude for manipulation and deceit.

But the well-oiled machine will still break down when you toss something into the works the way he’d witnessed. Seeing it strain and shudder once the wrench crunched into the gears he should have stopped it sooner, should have intervened more decisively but hindsight was always the clearest vision. You couldn’t change the past, but you always had a say in the future, always had a choice and an influence.

Michael Horner grabbed his jacket from the coat hook and eased his shoulders into it. He was almost done hiding now and was pleased that he could see the path he was plotting back to safer ground opening out before him. He would not need to hide or to worry so much, he would buy them all back onside with what he was planning. It was nearing completion, this new plan of his, so elaborately constructed, and it would pay the ransom on his head and give him so much more besides.

 

[]ACT II

h1<>{color:#365f91;}.

[]SIXTEEN

 

Campbell thinks of it like fitness, as if he needs only to get himself used to this to cope with it. It was the same after the incident; feeling compelled to get in better shape he found it took a while before he could run a few miles without wanting to throw up. Except now his actual fitness is slipping. With the long hours and the partying it is so hard to hit the gym or the pool. At first he would deal with the early mornings with an early swim or a run to the office, but not anymore. He just can’t find the energy. Exhaustion accumulates like dust in a filter, clogging him up. It’s a circle he is spinning into, vicious and downward. But he won’t accept defeat so soon, so easily. He has faced down far tougher and exacting challenges than this one.

Maybe he just needs to shed the ’new guy’ tab that seems to deny him the right to say no. Maybe once his feet are under the desk and he’s properly part of the set up he can pick and choose his nights out and even the occasional lie-in.

It began immediately and has not let up. His first day was a whirl of introductions to people and software and forms and processes. He was shown things that baffled him and was moved on to the next thing, the next room the next person before anything had a chance to settle in his mind. Quickly on with a brief wave of the hand; ’We can do that properly later, no time now.’

Then it was a boozy lunch with Giles and he found quickly that refusing the wine that was offered was more frowned-upon than accepting it. Then the afternoon dragged by in a boozy fog and Campbell was left with a few cursory tasks to occupy him, which served only to heighten his sense of unease; there was not nearly enough to keep him busy and the alcohol was making him feel paranoid and self-conscious. As the day wound down, he looked for signs that it was alright to leave – when a few people started heading out he could do the same.

Before he could make for the peaceful solace of an anonymous tube crowd and the silence of home he was seized again by a small boisterous group insisting on first-day drinks for the new guy. A noisily enthusiastic gaggle of wealthy-looking men and women who he’d seen flitting about the office all day suddenly coalesced into a group around his desk at 6.15 pm, intimidating and expectant and daring him to say no.

Home by midnight that first night and the second night Lawson had collared him mid-afternoon with news that there was ’a thing’ tonight and it was quite clear he would be expected to attend. Those new-guy nerves, that lack of confidence to turn down an invite for fear of offending and he was spending another evening drinking and coming home late. By the Friday after two more nights of it, he was bleary-eyed but an end-of-week sense of euphoria (and a very large, strong coffee and a bacon roll) got him through the morning. The downhill run of the afternoon into the weekend and a planned orgy of sleep, detox and exercise beckoned but on his way out the door in search of a sandwich shop Lawson had once again broadsided him.

’Friday lunchtime mate, time for a well-earned pint. Hell of a first week noobs,’ he said as that over-friendly arm snaked round Campbell’s shoulders. Noobs?

’I was just going to grab a sandwich and get back to those reports,’ he protested in hope rather than optimism. He knew where this would end.

’Oh screw that, it’s Friday. That’s a Monday morning job, no?’

’I’m shattered Giles, really. I could do with laying off for a few days, y’know?’

No words from Lawson this time, just a witheringly contemptuous stare fixed on him for long enough that he had no choice but to relent.

’Alright, a pint,’ he said with a roll of the eyes and the slap across his shoulder blades was audible across the office floor. Lawson wore a huge shit-eating grin.

’The Grapes,’ Lawson called out over his shoulder as he marched Campbell to the exit, gripping his shoulder firmly. Campbell heard a voice reply that Piers was already there and he felt his spirits sink a little, saw his chances of a single pint and a quick exit diminish.

’They do food?’ he asked Lawson as they stepped outside.

’Eating’s cheating, noobs,’ he shot back and for the first time Campbell felt a flash of anger at this.

It was bullying, clear enough, and it would continue in the pub with Lawson and his friendly-gruff disposition but he put it down to an initiation process, a test for the new guy. If he passed this first part where they would push him hard, some friendly banter and a week or two of hangovers, he would win their approval and with that some reprieve. He knew that this could not be normal, this extreme version of the work-hard, play-hard ethic and he supposed that it was better that he was being involved in things and welcomed into the fold, rather than ignored or excluded.

Week two ran a similar course: impromptu lunches, a birthday, a presentation from another company seeking business from Scorpio followed up by a free-bar and then another Friday lunchtime drink that ran all the way through into the evening.

Midway though the third week Campbell had an alarming moment where he fell asleep at his desk for ten minutes, though it felt like no more than a blink. Nobody appeared to have noticed though it set him on edge for the rest of the day.

Into week four and he feels those first pangs of regret beginning to break the surface. His workload has of course increased steadily with each passing day and when Giles suggests a night out to mark his ’monthiversary’ it arrives in the same email that makes it quite clear that things will start to get busy now that his first month is done and what they’re going to want to start seeing is “results”.

The one-two combination has Campbell out of his seat and striding to Lawson’s office. Not angry, or not just angry, but needing to take action. What results?

’Giles, you got five?’ he asks and plants his feet squarely in front of the other man’s desk. Lawson mumbles something and keeps sliding the mouse around his desk. Campbell sits and the other man takes his eyes off the screen.

’Got your email. I was wondering if we could talk about what’s next, you know,’ he says and tries to resist saying what he wants to say and succeeds in doing so for all of a few seconds. Lawson’s pause undoes him. The pause and his own impatience. ’And the results. What sort of results are we looking for?’

’Dan,’ smiles the other man, ’Shall we say…’ He draws the sentence out and starts clicking the mouse again, watching the screen. ’Shall we say we get a coffee first thing Monday and have a catch up?’

He nods back but knows he won’t leave it there. Not for a few more days of fretting over the meaning of that choice of words. Start seeing results.

The silence thickens and condenses the longer the two men stay there not breaking it, but Campbell wants more from this conversation.

’I’ve been doing all the readings and the reports you’ve passed me.’

’Yeah, that’s all good Dan, and you’re getting up to speed. But we didn’t hire someone to sit in the corner and read reports with a permanent hangover,’ Lawson shot back.

Campbell could feel his cheeks flush at the remark. He’d lost count of the number of times over the weeks that he had tried to duck an invitation; every time he was asked it was either presented as a fait accompli, as some essential professional-function, some necessary networking event, or rather he was simply cajoled, pressed and then bullied into it. The suggestion that he was somehow taking liberties and being unprofessional stung him. Nothing would have made him happier this past month than significantly fewer nights out.

But as he struggled with his composure he saw straight away that there was nothing to be said in response. Protesting that he’d been given no choice in the matter, that in four weeks he’d not once been able to say no to an invitation, would sound as empty out loud as it did in his head.

Lawson pressed on, not bothering to make eye contact. ’What we want is for you to start digging out a few finds Dan. We want some winners and we want some losers. I’ll clue you in Monday with a bit more granularity, but we’re going to start wanting some longs and some shorts from you. Weekly.’

There were more questions he wanted answering but the tone of Lawson’s delivery was clear enough to read. He’d get no more until their Monday catch-up.

Still, at least that was clearer. Campbell could take some comfort from the sliver of clarity he’d been offered. He would need to find investment opportunities for the traders, backed by rationales for whether to buy in to them and their success or to short-sell on their expected failure.

He opened his mouth to thank the other man but saw that Giles Lawson had slid his large leather chair back behind the double-monitor of his computer and was jabbing at the keypad of the phone on his desk. Campbell was dismissed.

Walking back to his desk, Campbell felt an odd sensation of reassurance. The job would begin in earnest now and with it the pressure to deliver, but at least, at last, he had a sense of what might be coming next. Surely that was better than not knowing?

 

[]SEVENTEEN

 

Riding the escalator up, eschewing his normal habit of walking up the left hand side, rather than standing on the right, he found himself thinking about Lisa.

Sure enough they had started out on the cusp of a date, after he’d taken her number at the club, and then the little argument over the cab outside where she’d relented and let him join her, only to ensure that she was dropped off first before he continued on his way, an invitation up to her flat for coffee resolutely unissued. But then the job and all its various confusions and intrusions had knocked him off his stride and all the while he could not decide whether a workplace romance – a workplace he had only just arrived in – was the wisest thing to pursue. Any social occasions they’d both attended he had maintained a cautious distance for fear of tripping himself up so soon into the new job.

But in matters of romance, wisdom could so often be found wanting. Campbell knew that well enough from the past; a certain young lady who had turned out to be not all that she appeared. Not that he suspected Lisa of anything nefarious, just that he was trapped somewhere between a natural caution and a certain fear of success. What if he went for it with her, what if she was interested and they began a relationship? Then he’d have to see her everyday, walk the same carpet, socialise with the same colleagues. They would be the subject of office gossip, the centre of attention. Didn’t Campbell have enough on his plate as it was without further distractions?

’She’s nice then?’ asks Steve as Campbell returns to the table from the bar. ’She’s the one from that night with the Champagne thief? And the interview in the club?’

’Well technically she wasn’t part of the interview, but yes. Her.’

’And she’s nice?’

Campbell nods in a way that is both emphatic and absent. Wistful even.

’Well that sounds just awful. I can see how you’re having a hard time here,’ Steve raises the fresh pint and toasts his friend then with a cheerful ’Fuck you by the way.’

’What?’ Campbell does the wounded expression but he needs no explanation. He is complaining of abundance, protesting his own good fortune, and here, in the company of a good friend it will not be tolerated.

’Challenging, well-paid new job, loads of socialising and a fine, fine lady in your sights. You know precisely what you can do.’

’OK,’ he says and raises hands in surrender, ’OK I accept it isn’t the worst situation in the world. But it’s harder than you think.’

There’s an intake of breath, as though his friend is gearing up for a further rebuttal, but Campbell heads him off.

’I mean the socialising is good fun of course, cool places, pretty people and all. But it is exhausting Steve. Three, four nights a week I’ve been getting in past two a.m. It’s killing me.’

’Heavy stuff huh?’

’There’s always something, you know. A birthday, a work function. Meeting reps and salesmen of one type or another. Lots of bar tabs and company credit cards, lots of corporate entertainment.’

’Least it’s cheap then.’

’Except it’s not. Cabs home at 2 in the morning cost money, sometimes there’s clubs after the bar so you’ve got cover charges on the door you know, West End prices. Sometimes the bar tab ends but everyone wants to keep going and then even one round of drinks makes your eyes water and your wallet bleed.’

’And everyone does this?’

’Well it’s the traders and the fund guys that pay mostly, the girls tend to get a free ride,’ he says with a shrug. ’Just the culture I guess. You want to party with the pretty girls from work, you buy their drinks, that sort of thing. But it’s showing off too you know, the guys like to show the cash. So it’s hard to not buy a round when there are so many free tabs and so many of the other guys from the office getting them in.’ He shakes his head at this, sips his pint.

’OK. But what I meant; everyone does this partying all week thing? Everyone is out late and hungover all day?’

’Yeah,’ says Campbell. ’Yeah.’

’Jesus.’

’Pretty much everyone.’

’Are you sure,’ begins Steve, ’that it’s not just you that does it all the time, and everyone else does it once a week? You just get yourself involved in everything?’

’No. No, that’s the thing,’ Campbell replies sharply. ’That’s what I’m saying. I don’t want to do it all the time. I want to have quiet nights in, early to bed, bit of gym time. But I never seem to manage it. There’s always something.’

’You said that.’

’No, but I mean there’s always someone telling me I’ve got to go. To meet people, to socialise. To get to know colleagues or guys from the other companies we work with you know, the reps and the sales guys. It feels like every invite I get is mandatory. Like saying no would work out badly.’

’You know what Dan, you’re being paranoid mate. You can say no. It is in your power to say no. There’s nothing mandatory-’

’You aren’t hearing me-’ Campbell cut in, it was stopped abruptly.

’I’m hearing you fine. Any pressure comes from you. You think you have to say yes because you are worrying about disappointing the new boss. It’s in your head. The lack of sleep is not making it any better.’

Campbell chewed on that for a while and sipped the beer. Chewed and sipped.

’They’re just so full on.’

Steve looks at him blank faced. ’You wanted this. You went to an interview in a nightclub with a guy you met in a nightclub Dan. I have to say, you might have seen some of this coming.’

’OK. Some maybe. But this…’

’Look, you said no tonight and nobody handed you your P45 at the lift. Relax, get some sleep, get your head right, you’ll be fine.’

’Maybe I just need to tone it down a bit, get stuck into the work instead of the bar.’

’If everyone else is drinking every night and not hungover, they’re either freaks or liars. Just do your own thing, man.’

’Mmmn. I guess.’

’OK. Now, do I dare ask if you want another or would you rather spend the first hour I’ve seen you since you quit telling me about how much you’re partying and then go home early?’

’Alright,’ replies Campbell with a smile. ’One more.’

He watches the other man to the bar and feels himself lose a little of the tension that has been gripping his neck and shoulders of late. Or maybe he’s just too tired to feel it anymore.

 

[]EIGHTEEN

 

’The floor’s sticky over there.’

Caspar Hogg points at a dark patch and stops the other man before he treads where he shouldn’t.

’Cleaner?’ asks the man.

Hogg shakes his head and drops his eyes.

’Oh yes. That.’

It riles him a little that the other man has a smirk on his face and sounds amused. He wonders what she told them about it, that she somehow conveyed to them in her fractured, stumbling English that something upsetting had taken place in the room with the lonely fat man with the strange mark on his face that had resulted in tears and a torn dress. It riles him most that the man seems almost impressed by what he thinks Hogg did, by what he thinks Hogg could do.

The words form on his lips for a moment and he is about to protest his innocence but he hears how it sounds before he says it and how they would hear it and he shuts up. It just popped off. The button holding her boobs in just burst off across the room all by itself and there he was, face to face with her untanned flesh, completely by accident. He could already hear them laughing.

Hogg was diverted for a moment by that new thought; them. How many were there in all? There was this man here, tall and rangy, with sandy hair and dark brown eyes who came to him most frequently to deliver orders or take them, though the ones he took were only ever of the commercial kind; more food, more soda, more computing components. Supplies.

There was another who occasionally accompanied this man and who said nothing and lurked in the background while the tall, rangy man patrolled and poked around Hogg’s workstation.

’Boss wants to see you.’

And then there was the man in charge. He had that clear sense of seniority and an aloofness that was part-natural and part-amplified. Everybody needed to know who they were subservient to, needed to be reminded often of their place in the hierarchy.

Thing was, from his limited exposure to the hierarchy, it seems to Caspar Hogg as though there were not many more people in it. Outside the two faces he saw – sandy haired man and silent man – and the boss, he was beginning to suspect that there were very few others.

Perhaps he subcontracted more than just the IT capability. Perhaps his whole organisation consisted of a series of specialists, engaged for their particular skillsets with a just few core operators kept close. Lord only knew. Hogg had relatively little contact with anyone, so much of his time and energy focused on engineering the network they wanted, with all its complex gateways and compartments.

But what he’d seen of the boss, he seemed to be possessed of significant intelligence and no small amount of focus, leaving little room for sympathy or generosity of character. That still didn’t rule out his being a banker or a spook but Hogg was no longer of the opinion that this was anything other than a nakedly criminal enterprise.

The car ride was relatively brief, as were most journeys. Georgetown was small for a capital, small for such a significant global financial hub, but much of what happened here did not require sprawling acres of high rise office blocks and nor was it especially labour intensive. Indeed, much of what went on here, probably actually happened somewhere else, but for reasons of financial and legal expediency were ’routed’ through this island haven, a place where rich people and hot money came to play and neither stayed long.

’How are you finding Grand Cayman?’ asked Michael Horner with scarcely any effort at sincerity.

Hogg shrugged.

’Making friends?’ asked Horner and Hogg felt a flush of embarrassment and anger. He checked his irritation, but a curt dismissal lingered on his tongue, hot and bitter. He was beginning to tire of the baiting and the sniggering.

’Very well. How are your endeavours progressing?’

Hogg raised a noncommittal smile and offered the faintest nod.

’Excellent, how encouraging. The payments are clearing, yes? They’ve arrived in your account as agreed?’

Hogg nodded again, took the point. ’I’m stress testing a lot of it at the moment. Best way to know something is strong is keep breaking it so you can see where it breaks. Fix it up.’

’Does it work? Enough to use?’

’It works. Up to you when you roll it out. But I wouldn’t yet.’

’When would you?’

Hogg gets half way through a shrug before Horner cuts in. ’OK, well let me put it to you this way: when will it be ready enough to use that we’d both be … Comfortable?’

’Something like this is pretty unique, so there’s never a date it’s finished.’ Hogg watches the boss shoot a glance at the tall, rangy man who has accompanied him to this meeting and spots the response it elicits: one of crossed arms and raised shoulders. Hogg is pushing buttons, and not the ones he’s paid to.

’Two weeks. Should be done in two weeks.’

’Shall we say one?’

’I need more than that. I can’t do it in a week.’

’Ten days then, and you are now wasting your own time even listening to me finish this sentence.’

Tall and rangy straightens and makes for the exit. Hogg smiles despite himself as he heads for the door, thinks that he’s starting to like the boss, even if he is a colossal prick.

 

*

 

The message, when he sends it, is cryptic and encrypted. He is sending this sooner than he had intended to but he cannot wait for Hogg to finish his work. He must anticipate its completion within the time-frame he has set the man.

There is little real information contained in the message, but it trails the upcoming release of something that everyone on his list will be interested in.

This project he has been working on, this elaborate construction has not been all for himself, not simply for his own personal enrichment. This, instead, will be the ransom that buys his freedom.

Once they are all on-board and set up, he will guide them through the whole process, each step, until the end game unfolds and they can all walk away happy.

There are complex financial structures, shell companies, trusts and pyramids, dizzying chains of corporations and subsidiaries, banks and hedge funds and the only person that knows how it functions, can see which pieces fit where, is Michael Horner.

It has begun to grow and swell, feeding by itself, an organic and malignant thing, black and greedy. Horner knows what he has set loose, though not its precise dimensions. He will seek to control and manipulate it for as long as he can and then get out with the rest of them. If his enemies feel he owes them something, be it money or pride, then he is banking on their own love of an easy dollar trumping any debt he carries, erasing the red in his ledger.

Just getting in touch with so many dangerous men is a massive risk. His head is above the parapet now and ducking down again to hide will only work for so long. They will know he is out there and if they are not already looking, will begin to seek him out.

The plan therefore, must not fail. His next message to them must be soon and must be complete. He will need to present his plan to them all, convince them all of its viability and simple functionality. Simple for them; they need only follow his instructions and trust that the fear he has for them, the threat they carry individually and collectively, is enough to reassure them that he will not be trying to inflict further damage to their wealth or reputations.

But the plan and its implementation will be anything but simple and if Caspar Hogg and his ultra-secure network fails to function at anything less than perfect, then Michael Horner imagines that he and anyone close to him will spend longer dying than they do running.

 

 

[]NINETEEN

 

Lawson turns up early and of course, looks impeccable. He is wearing a suit today. Full business wear, rather than the posh-boy smart-casual that is his usual uniform. His suit is a deep blue and stylishly cut, evidently made-to-measure. The shirt is crisp and so white that the blood-red tie looks like a thick, fresh stain or an open wound.

Campbell looks better, for his own part, than he has for some time, testament to the benefits of a good night’s sleep or two. And he is even earlier than his boss this morning too, determined that he will not surrender the upper hand as easily as he has on previous encounters.

He has spent much of his weekend sleeping and eating well, exercising physically and exorcising mentally, chasing out some of the demons that have taken possession these past weeks. The doubt and the paranoia.

He has reminded himself of the fact that he has been pursued and recruited, that he did not go hawking his cv around in hope. He replays to himself the scenes in the nightclub when they entertained and flattered him into the small hours, the swiftness and generosity of the job offer that followed. All these things offer the same conclusion to Campbell and it comforts and reassures him. He is wanted and he belongs and he will deliver what they believe he can and will do so without fear.

’Ordered?’ Lawson asks.

’Just coffee,’ he replies and extends a hand.

’What looks good?’ By his tone, Lawson is either more upset at being second to the meeting than he ought to be over something so trivial, or that coffee cannot come soon enough.

’The waitress.’ Campbell smiles and arches eyebrows in the direction of the pretty blonde in the tight skirt.

Lawson is evidently more committed to his chauvinism than his bad mood and he clocks her immediately and smiles at Campbell and nods in approval.

It’s not the way he wanted to play it, but it seemed the quick and easy way to get things running. While he is staring at the menu and being pleased with himself he doesn’t notice the waitress arrive.

’Eggs Benedict,’ says Lawson and Campbell frowns at him before he realises that he is ordering and that the waitress is now looking at him.

’Two please,’ he says quickly and snaps the menu closed.

’You want two?’ the waitress asks him, clearly confused that he is ordering two for himself.

’One each,’ he clarifies but his tone is sharper than he intends and Lawson smirks as the waitress shuffles away looking embarrassed.

He feels the slightest shift occur between the two of them and he wonders for a moment how he has managed to somehow mess up even this.

But the reinvigorated, retrained Campbell remembers that he is not going to play these games, or even to recognise that they are being played. He will simply do his own thing, and get it right.

’Can’t get the staff,’ says Lawson with that same smirk on his face, the same one that Campbell is refusing even to see.

’I don’t know. Anyone that wants to bring me extra food is OK with me,’ he says.

’Damn. Forgot to order my coffee,’ says the other man as he sees the waitress making her way across the room with a tray laden with cafetiere, cup and a small milk jug and sugar bowl.

’Lucky I didn’t,’ replies Campbell with a smile and before Lawson can ask he notes the waitress make for their table and set the tray down. ’I assumed you’d want coffee too for when you got here.’

With that, he has wrestled back a little of the momentum and for the duration of their breakfast, the other man relents from trying to score points or outsmart or outsmarm him. Campbell finds himself again thinking that such things are in his imagination. A new job is stressful enough, in particular one so different to what he is used to. And then there has been the relentless partying and the toll it has taken. He has been unable to settle into the role, unable to find any equilibrium and it has muddied his thinking and set him on edge.

Lawson explains what it is they want from their new analyst, and how it will be not just delivered, but measured too. Campbell takes it all in, scribbles a few notes on the pad he has brought with him and he asks sharp, perceptive questions, not all of which his new boss can answer.

The page of the notepad where Campbell has several ideas for trades already written down remains concealed for now. He was ready to share them if pressed but he has not been fighting to keep up today so will keep his powder dry.

On his return to the office he sets about digging a little more on the company names he has on his list and then spends a lunch break creating a secure online data storage account on a site called Deadlock in order to keep his notes safely hidden. This is not paranoia, just sensible planning. A notepad in his inside jacket pocket is all very well, but this is 2015 and he wants to be able to access this information from anywhere, but without fear that someone else will do so too. These ideas are the only thing that will keep him on the right side of the ’Scorpions’ and if he is to make a success of this, he must have a competitive edge, and guard it closely.

By mid afternoon he is feeling like the day has gone as well as he’d hoped and that for a change, he was getting in front of things, not trying to keep up. He picks up the phone.

’What night’s good for a date night, you think?’

She pauses before she speaks. ’I’m sorry?’

’I like a Thursday. Friday is always a bit too lively, too rowdy. Hard to get a nice quiet drink anywhere.’

’Sure. Sound logic.’

’But what’s your preference? Do you like the idea that there’s no work in the morning if you do a Friday?’

’Dan, why are you asking me about what night to go on a date?’

Campbell smiles into the handset. ’I’m sorry. Is that not obvious? I’m going to ask someone out, so I need to know this.’

She says nothing and he waits a beat, wondering if he has gone too far, handled this too clumsily, suddenly feeling a little awkward and foolish.

’Lisa, I’d like to take you out on a date. That is to say, I would like to ask you out on a date. Cocktails, or dinner. Cocktails and dinner. Would you let me take you out?’

Still she says nothing and the feeling of mild exhilaration begins to give way to trepidation. He’s had a good day so far by any standards. Perhaps his luck just ran out.

He sees the phone go dead, rather than hears it, as the red light on the top of the telephone keypad blinks out and for a moment he struggles to believe that this is how she has chosen to respond.

He begins typing an email to her, then deletes it and considers going to make a tea and walking to the kitchen on a route that passes her desk, but then dismisses that and takes the direct route.

He dunks the tea bag into the steaming water and stirs it awhile, staring blankly at the swirling liquid, stewing just as much as the tea. As he fishes it out and turns to drop it into the bin he almost bumps into someone standing behind him.

’Oops. Sorry,’ says Lisa.

It is Campbell’s turn for silent responses. He stands holding the teaspoon and tea bag in mid air where he has checked himself to avoid the collision.

’I had someone hanging at my desk. Didn’t seem like a conversation to have with an audience.’

Campbell nods, drops the tea bag in the bin. Opens the fridge to get milk.

’Cocktails and dinner?’ she says and he turns to find her smiling at him.

 

[]TWENTY

 

The tall, rangy man with the sandy hair who has been so frequently in attendance with Michael Horner has a name. He may well have a family too. He may even harbour a burning passion for fine art and classical music as well, but for Dusan Rajkovic he has only one use.

He is a message. Rather, he is a means by which a message will be communicated.

They debated, he and Hari, on the way back to the hotel how to do it, or indeed whether they should do anything. But in the end they both recognised the value in making Horner aware of them.

The message Horner had sent was vague and obviously meant to be more than a little enticing. That lack of detail would inflame the impatience of many, and they both knew that this was something Horner must have sent to any number of people, but they had a head-start.

Here in Grand Cayman it was clear that Horner had chosen to set himself up for more than its tropical climate and excellent diving, or even the remoteness of the place. There were plenty of places to go to ground if you were trying to hide from the dangerous people you’d upset, but this place had other things to offer the erstwhile businessman and cunning, inventive entrepreneur.

Whatever he was cooking up, they would know about soon enough. But they both agreed that if Horner thought that he was ahead of the game, he should be reminded where he stood in the scheme of things. He should be reminded that the people that he was indebted to had reach and power that he could only wonder at, and be fearful.

They separated at the lift and Hari headed up to his suite. Dusan made for the bar.

The beer was crisp and frosty, but Dusan picked absently at the label and stared past the ranks of beautiful women in swimwear and their corpulent consorts in their tiny trunks and before he’d made it halfway through the bottle it was getting warm.

He left a tip on the bar and headed back through the lobby of the hotel in search of another taxi. He checked his phone as he directed the driver back to the rental car place and saw that Hari had made no attempt to contact him, which meant that his boss was either sleeping, or making use of some of the hotel’s facilities. He pictured him face down and half draped in white cotton towels as a young masseuse worked at his doughy shoulders. There would be little more than that though. There was no Mrs Harimau nor any more casual companions. He still hadn’t figured out if that was a deliberate ploy to keep his life simple and uncluttered or whether there was something else at work. Did the man’s tastes run to different persuasions or certain other predilections? If they did, Hari was certainly very discreet about it. Either way, Dusan reflected, whatever nubile young woman was currently running her hands over the relaxed prone form of his boss would leave the room unharassed and well paid.

Taking a different car off the lot, a bigger, more comfortable one than earlier in the day, he parked up under a different tree, on a different corner outside Horner’s building and sealed himself in with the air conditioning and the stereo, playing with the Bluetooth hook-up so he could play his own music through the car’s speakers from his smartphone.

An hour passes and nothing stirs and then a car pulls up and three men get out. One is fixed immediately in Dusan’s mind for his sheer size and the large red birthmark across much of his face. His demeanour marks him out as subordinate to the other two, but not afraid.

The tall man with the sandy hair looked every very inch the guy in charge here, ushering the fat man toward and through the gate before striding through himself, pointedly in front of the third man, solid and silent and withdrawn. But then tall and rangy did something that put a smile on Dusan’s face. He adjusted his black jacket and for a moment, just the smallest sliver of time, he runs his hand over the armpit area before smoothing the material down, a gesture designed solely to divert from the previous one. The armpit.

He was checking for his gun.

It gave him away. It wasn’t like checking for your keys or making sure you had your wallet before you left the house. Any pro would know he’d got his piece locked and loaded in place. He was touching it for reassurance.

Chink in the armour.

So tall-and-rangy had picked himself out for the job of messenger. Dusan would not know his name or whether he had kids or passions, but when he was done with him, Horner would know just enough. Just as much as he needed to.

 

[]TWENTY ONE

 

On his down time, tall-and-rangy carried himself in much the same way as his on-duty persona, the bravado and confidence put on like a suit. Watching him wander through the bar of another exclusive hotel (was there any other kind here?) he saw why that might be. Within the hour the man had struck up a cosy conversation with a tanned and slender middle-aged woman, the third such that he had spoken with, the first who had not stopped him dead with a deep-freeze attitude.

Tall-and-rangy had taken those on the chin but third time was a charm, and so was he by the way the woman smiled and fluttered eyelashes at him. He ordered champagne, second cheapest on the wine list, and she shifted her chair closer and began to get giggly with the bubbles and the dusk.

Dusan nursed a whiskey and picked his way through the paperback he’d picked up at the newsstand in the lobby as he’d followed tall-and-rangy in here. It was entertaining but Dusan was focused and noted that he needed to take few precautions to hide himself. His target was interested only on the job in hand and the simpering, tipsy woman in the flimsy dress, the neckline of which seemed to get lower with every glass of champagne.

Eventually she succumbs to her full bladder and she stands and smiles and makes for the bathroom. She holds up two fingers to the man to indicate the two minutes she will take and then wags the fingers in a cutesy little wave. He watches her across the room and his eyes are fixed on her backside, the hips swinging like a hypnotist’s watch.

Dusan intercepts her at the edge of the room. The drunken stumble is less than convincing to the discerning eye but for those who have been drinking all evening, passes for what it is supposed to. He trips and falls into her, grabs at her to steady himself and though she keeps her feet, she loses her bag and lets out a squeal of alarm.

He hears the other man get on his feet and knows he has only a few seconds but as he rights himself, rocking forward on his knees, he has all the time and cover he needs to sift the spilled content of her bag and palm the keycard to her room.

He makes a show of scooping things up and into the bag as she crouches next to him and he apologises profusely in English and then French.

When tall-and-rangy arrives he may as well be on horseback. He snatches up Dusan by the lapels and noisily upbraids him as the woman gathers the last of her things.

’Marcus, it’s OK. He’s just a little drunk. He tripped,’ she says, and the way in which he responds, without a pause or a flicker, tells Dusan that the name is his real one. Even in this he lacks for any wit or subtlety.

’I’m so sorry, so sorry,’ repeats Dusan. He raises hands in surrender and remorse. ’Let me get you a drink,’ he says addressing the woman who is recovering her poise, though not so much to hoist up the drooping neckline of her dress, where already he notes Marcus’ eyes have been drawn once again.

’We’re fine,’ replies Marcus, all squared shoulders and I’m-in-charge.

’Please. I’m so sorry. Let me get you something,’ he repeats, this time to Marcus, who has already learned his steps almost perfectly in the dance that Dusan is leading them on. He is deferring to Marcus, handing him the initiative he wants, giving him the easy win in front of this woman that he hopes is his prize.

’OK,’ he says, although he is looking at the woman as he speaks – breasts then eyes – ’Champagne.’

She smiles at the man and they share a conspiratorial look before she attends to the task at hand and makes again for the bathroom. Dusan drifts to the bar, gestures at Marcus as he retakes the seat and offers another silent apology across the room.

She arrives at the table a moment before the ice bucket and Marcus whispers something to her that makes her giggle and nod and then he turns the waiter with the ice bucket around and points back toward the lobby.

He watches as the waiter leaves to deliver the champagne to her room as instructed, then as the couple meander through to reception where she explains that she has misplaced her key somewhere. She gives her name and thanks the receptionist for their help once they have verified her as a genuine guest, all the while Marcus fondling her shapely backside.

Dusan watches them to the room – ground floor, beach front – and when he passes the door hears the cork pop and the woman squeals with delight. On his second pass a short time later, he hears music, and as he stands closer, notes that it is all he can hear: no voices, no conversation.

He slips the keycard in and pops the door open, steps inside.

The music is loud and the lights are out. Dusan listens for someone to respond to the intrusion but they are engaged in something altogether more diverting and he can hear the moaning of the woman and the gravelly purr of Marcus, murmuring his approval.

Dusan hangs in the shadow of the hallway and ventures a look.

On the bed she sits astride him, her lean shoulders white in the soft light penetrating the glass doors that open onto the lawn outside and the beach beyond. Her toned back tapers to her waist and then softens and widens out at her round buttocks. Marcus lies beneath her as she grinds on top of him, his hands kneading roughly at her breasts. Both of them have their eyes closed and for a moment Dusan simply admires the view, watching her hips rock and thrust, her back arch.

Then Marcus drops a hand from her chest, reaches down, and slaps her sharply on the rump. With a smile, Dusan sees that it’s time to get on with it. He steps quickly to the bed and as Marcus opens his eyes, he jabs knuckles into the knot of nerves behind her ear and jaw and she is unconscious even before she slumps forward and her forehead smacks heavily into Marcus’s teeth.

’Aah, shit!’ he says and grabs at his mouth and tries to wrestle with the weight of her on top of him.

’Never had a date pass out on me before,’ says Dusan with a shake of the head and as Marcus rolls the woman off of him he feels the cold, hard tip of the snub-nose revolver pressed into his bloodied lip. ‘Too much champagne.’

Marcus fixes him with a look of cold rage, furious to see this man’s face again, furious that he’s let Dusan get this close without seeing it coming.

’Up,’ Dusan says and Marcus extracts himself from the heavy twist of limbs and does as he is told.

Dusan looks him over in the gloom of the room and shakes his head again and tuts. ’You see, this just shows the importance of safe sex.’

’So, why don’t you go and fuck yourself,’ Marcus says, his voice thick and wet with the drink and the pain.

’Clothes,’

’What about her?’

’She’ll wake up with a headache and an empty bed.’

Marcus stares at him as he dresses and Dusan notes that he is not armed.

’What are you thinking Marcus? Apart from “why didn’t I bring my gun?”’ he says. ’Maybe you think the gun is too loud for me to use in here. Maybe you think I would have used it by now if I wanted to kill you.’ Dusan shrugs. ’Maybe.’

’I think you’re after someone else.’

’Yes, no.’

’You want me to take you to him? I was thinking of quitting anyway.’

’He needs to hire better people.’

’You pay asshole money, you get assholes.’

’I’ve been on you all night. You have no gun. You fall for the thing with the bag… Yeah. Asshole.’

’Shall we speed this up?’

’Door,’ Dusan says and waves the snub-nose toward the large glass doors and follows Marcus out into the night. ’Beach. Let’s take a walk.’

Marcus watches as the gun is holstered and then heads toward the sound of the waves. Whatever Dusan’s plan is here, he has decided to let it play out.

’He’s got something in the pipeline yes?’

Marcus nods. ’Don’t ask me what it is or how it all works but there’s been a load of paperwork and the man has three computer terminals in his office. One of them weird-looking, all black with green and red and yellow keys on the keyboard. Screen’s old fashioned, you know. No graphics. Lots of numbers and charts.’

Dusan says nothing, keeps a pace or two behind the other man who looks back at him and sees his information has registered no response.

’He’s building some computer network thing too. It’s part of it, but not the main thing. He has some fat, geeky fuck doing it all.’

The man from the car earlier, the one with the large birth-mark on his face.

’I can show you where-’

Dusan cuts him off. ’You don’t need to show or tell me anything. You need to get a message to him.’

Marcus stumbles then, goes to his knees on the sand. As he stands, he spins and whips his left arm up and aims a handful of sand for where Dusan’s eyes should be and drives upward from the ground with a thrusting right hand uppercut.

Dusan is not there though. He has correctly read the stumble as a ruse and moves low and to the right in time to dodge the sand and the rising fist.

Marcus is quick and recovers himself fast enough that Dusan’s advantage is too slender to press aggressively. He rights himself and draws his hands up in front of him. That tall, rangy build gives him the edge in terms of height and reach and after a pause, both men unleash a flurry of blows, some landing, some blocked.

Marcus clips the other man’s chin but Dusan was moving in the same direction with his dodge and it glances off. He counters with a solid right to the ribs, then moves fast back to the side and jabs two lightning punches to the kidneys. Marcus yells out but doesn’t shift. He is stronger and better than Dusan had credited him, which means this will take longer, but at least it will feel fairer.

Marcus pulls his arm in at his side, catching Dusan’s fist there before he can pull away from the second punch and he twists and then strikes down with his free hand into the trapped elbow, then strikes down again hard, chopping at Dusan’s temple.

Dusan feels something in his arm give, maybe a tendon, but he drops away to free himself, into the sand and rolls away.

As he rises, Marcus comes at him fast and Dusan throws a punch at his kidneys again but stops short. Marcus buys the feint and pauses. Dusan does not hesitate, stabbing straight fingers into the Adam’s apple with astonishing force. He feels it shift and crunch under the impact.

The eyes go wide and his knees give out and Dusan steps away as he hears the sound of the other man begin to choke on his own oesophagus. He claws at his throat, as if he might somehow pluck it free and clear his airway.

It takes a long time for a man to suffocate and Dusan settles on his haunches as he waits and watches Marcus sink into the sand, blood flecking his blue lips as he chokes out his final desperate breaths.

Before the end, when all the fight is gone out of Horner’s asshole-cheap hired help, he grips him beneath the armpits and drags him twenty yards across the sand to a small wooden row-boat. Flipping him over, he hoists him up and drops him face down against the raised and splintered lip of the bow and watches blood and spittle splatter the wood beneath.

He fetches a large piece of drift wood from further down the shoreline and drags it through the tracks that Marcus’s body has made and then leaves it a few inches behind his feet, as though the tall man with the alcohol in his bloodstream has merely tripped in the darkness and landed here, like this, the way he’ll be found. The force of the impact on landing having crushed his windpipe.

He will have been seen with the woman in the bar all evening. She will report that she woke up alone, with no sign of the man she slept with. She will admit, with no small amount of embarrassment that she does not remember much of what happened, that she may have passed out. No wonder he left.

Dusan slips the wallet from his pocket and picks through it, finding bank cards, credit cards and his driving licence. He takes the licence, returns the cards and places the wallet carefully back in Marcus’s jeans pocket.

 

 

[] TWENTY TWO

 

The message that Horner sends to London is no less clear than the one he receives and is sent with no little haste.

The envelope was plain white and blank though he suspected that it came from one of the more upmarket hotels near the beach. The contents, small and hard from the feel of it, and when he opened it his eyes fell immediately on the face in the small photograph. There was no need to read the name or date of birth. No need to look for a letter of explanation.

It would be a few more hours before he heard anything official about the death of his main security man, or the nauseating manner of his demise. He would not need to think too deeply about whether what seemed like an accident was just that or merely designed to look that way.

Horner understood the message every bit as clearly as he was supposed to. He did not communicate this to anyone close to him in any more detail than he needed to. Explaining why Marcus had been killed in the way he had, why his killer had delivered his ID through his front door, would have meant telling them more; about why the scheme he was arranging was about emancipation as much as enrichment, and who and what he needed to be free from, who he would need to make rich in order for them to forgive or forget his previous transgression and the nature of that transgression.

Would any of these men, hired help, either care about or understand the scam he had arranged through various companies and British Government overseas aid contracts and the blackmail that underpinned it? Of course not. They were here for the money, nothing more. There was no sense of duty or of loyalty amongst them. The disparate, cellular structure of the organisation was designed to keep them separate from one another as far as possible, such that nobody knew any more than he needed to of the whole. It kept Horner in sole control of the operation, reduced the chances of any of the other actors over-reaching themselves and complicating the plan.

Horner called on the next-in-line to Marcus and told him what had happened. The man, a quiet and intense former British serviceman named Rookes who had some Special Forces experience and had served in Afghanistan, took the news with scarcely a change in expression, accepted his promotion with a nod and when Horner asked him whether he could get three or four more guys on board to beef up the security detail he nodded again and did not ask why the boss might need to replace one body with four. Marcus had never been that good.

Once done with that, Horner contacted the relevant person in London and made his position plain. It was time to move things forward and specific instructions would follow. He was careful however, under this new pressure, not to forget the other thing. Pulling this whole scheme off would give him immense satisfaction, with all the trimmings of residual wealth, freedom and forgiveness from those he had offended and affronted so deeply and a restoration of his own reputation. But it wouldn’t give him pleasure.

Someone else would need to provide that.

Warmed by that thought, he took a pen and a clean pad and began to sketch out an untidy diagram of the plan he was forging.

It was hard to make anything on the page reflect the concepts in his head and the organisation of the numerous facets of the plan; the bank, the shell companies, Hogg’s secure network, the share issues and the derivatives contracts. They all fitted together in constructing the whole. Not like a jigsaw or a 3D model. It was more abstract than that, less tangible.

But it was taking shape now and as he balled the paper and tossed it aside, Horner assured himself that all that was needed now was nerve and resolve and a dose more ruthlessness than he had deemed necessary last time around.

 

[] TWENTY THREE

 

It’s like a thread on his jumper or a scab on his knee. He sees it and knows that it might best be just left alone, but he has not got the wherewithal to ignore it.

Lisa gives him the first hint of it one night, over the promised cocktails. She reveals how little time she has been with Scorpio, how few months she spent there before his own arrival. Nothing strange in that, he thinks. Indeed, it goes some way to explaining why a girl like this, with the looks and the brains and the smile that she smiles, remains single in a place like this, with all these shark-eyed, sharp-suited young men.

But she mentions that her colleagues are in much the same boat and then alludes to how young Scorpio Capital is as an organisation. At the time she says this he considers it to be a reference to the fact that there appear so few staff members of any sort of age, so few in fact that are north of thirty.

But later he will find that is not what she meant. He stumbles across it, because it is not the sort of thing that he would otherwise have thought to look for, but the relevance of it will loom and linger in his mind with the passage of time. He dismisses it at first but there will come a moment when he regrets ignoring his instincts.

Scorpio Capital is barely a year and a half old as a company. It is not the result of two or three smaller merging ventures and a rebrand, or, so far as he can tell, a company spun out of another, a group of disgruntled staff or Directors jumping ship and setting up on their own, taking clients and expertise with them. It is a start up, plain and simple.

The whole operation came into being barely a year and a half ago, and had swelled to a half-dozen bodies now. He’d been getting a feel for the set up and he supposed that where much had been outsourced he could understand now why that was the case – so little time and so expensive to set up a fully functioning outfit with a department for everything. Easier to buy the expertise in ready made and fit around it, focus on the things you wanted to focus on, the things you were good at.

He was sitting at his desk trawling through a data-heavy report when Lisa appeared over the top of the computer monitors on his desk.

‘I’ve often wondered what people mean when they use the word “quizzical” but thanks to your expression, I no longer need to,’ she said.

Campbell felt the furrows unfold on his brow and he smiled at her. ‘Oh. Yeah. Just doing this … ‘ he wafted a hand at the screens. ‘Something weird… dates.’ He shook his head when the sentence failed to form.

‘Dates. Weird. OK. It is good that our relationship at this stage consists more of that early stage frisson and excitement and less of your conversational acumen. Or we’d be fucked.’

He looks up and smiles. ‘We can’t both rely on dazzling good looks.’

‘Or charm.’

‘What’s up?’

‘Little bored.’

Campbell smiles at her and wonders how that feels. ‘You quiet are you?’

‘Nope. Loads to do. It’s dull,’ she says. ‘Want to swap?’

‘You really want to do this? You want to compete on who’s workload is most grinding?’

‘A dull-off? That might be simultaneously more and less exciting than the actual work.’

‘Still, bonus day Friday,’ Campbell says. ‘For you.’

‘Are you angling for dinner on me by any chance?’

‘I wasn’t,’ he says. ‘I am now.’

The timing of their financial year-end has meant that Campbell has not been on board long enough to earn any kind of bonus entitlement but the rest of the staff are all waiting on the payment of whatever sums those above them have seen fit to bestow.

‘Hmm, maybe,’ she says and then her face brightens. ‘Ooh! Yes. I know. I know the place to take you.’

He feels the smile on his own face bloom across his cheeks so infectious is she. ‘So you are buying me dinner?’

‘This place near me. It’s just… oh. Love it. Shall we do Saturday night? Are you good for Saturday?’

‘Don’t want to do tomorrow?’ he asks, hopefully.

‘Everyone’s out tomorrow. Bonus splurge.’

He knows this of course, but was angling to avoid another heavy session and late night.

‘Don’t worry Dan,’ she says as she pats his arm. ‘Everyone knows you’re not up for a bonus, you won’t have to pay for anything.’

Except that he will as he always does but there’s no sense arguing the point, not least because she is clearly looking forward to it, but given the enthusiastic offer of dinner, it seems churlish to protest.

‘Where’s Giles by the way?’

‘Dublin. Back Friday.’

‘I thought he went to Jersey on Monday?’

Campbell nods. ‘Yep. Then he went off to Dublin.’

‘Apparently I might have to go with him next week. Giles also mentioned New York. Not sure about that though.’

‘Oh, what? New York? You’re smuggling me with you.’

‘Sure, that’s absolutely a done deal. Failing that, I do recall him mentioning something about Delaware as well.’

She makes a face like she’s tasted something sour and then seems to spot something at her desk and hurries away. Campbell can’t see what it is that has called her away but no doubt a disapproving look from a colleague has been enough to do it. Their burgeoning romance is not public knowledge within the firm but people cannot have failed to notice the increasing frequency of their conversations, the more familiar manner of their exchanges.

She will probably be busy denying things right now as she sits and gets back to her own pile of paperwork.

He looks again at the date that had caught his eye before she interrupted his train of thought. It is the date of the founding of a company that Scorpio has made some large investments in and the reason for his interest is the proximity of the date to the founding of Scorpio.

It can be nothing more than a coincidence of course, and he thinks no more of it than that before another part of his mind flags something up. The place that Lisa is taking him to on Saturday is near where she lives.

He follows the steps along that path of logic; they will eat out in the evening, perhaps go for a drink afterward depending on the hour or how full they feel after eating, or how much of the wine list they get into. And then they will perhaps need to go somewhere else. Somewhere close.

Campbell stares at and through his screen for a long while then, but he is not seeing it. He is seeing her, and how she might look, dressed up for the restaurant, smiling across a small table. He keeps looking, keeps seeing. Keeps smiling.

 

[] TWENTY FOUR

 

Campbell makes an effort and puts on a suit. Lisa tells him that the restaurant is not especially formal, not “maître d ‘formal” is how she puts it, but nice nevertheless and the way she tells him to wear “something nice, smart” seems unambiguous enough for him to bypass most of his wardrobe and reach for his best suit and shine his shoes.

He rises early in the day in order to confront the inevitable hangover head-on, although the various evasive manoeuvres employed during the bonus-night party have certainly helped avert the worst. Never mind that he scarcely put his hand in his pocket or that he made the last tube home, it is the physical cost of the intake rather than the price of drinks that he counts these days.

Up early and out running, hard and long, followed by a leisurely swim. He’s home in time for a light lunch and some domestic tasks so as to keep his Sunday free, and then he dives into some more research and reports for a couple of hours which culminates in an hour of sleeping on the sofa.

Refreshed from the mental and physical work-out, recharged from the nap, he is feeling bright and sharp for the date but the closer it gets, the more nervous he becomes.

Campbell is surprised by this. It’s not a first date, and though their relationship is hardly serious yet, or well established even, here he is, pulling in the occasional deep breath to settle himself and frequently flattening the creases from his shirt or adjusting the jacket, buttoned, unbuttoned.

He waits at the bar, the specified place to meet, at the specified time and even the specified spot at the end, near where the empty glasses are collected. He orders a drink and then frets over how fast he drinks the first third, frets over how late she is and if she has changed her mind, frets that he is reacting this way over a five minute delay and that, it being a date, she is to be afforded at least twenty minutes before he as any rightful cause to object or to worry. He worries anyway, that something has happened to her. Then that he has drunk the second third of the drink and now it might look as though he is making a point about how long she has made him wait if she walks in at this point and sees so little left in the glass. Should he finish and get another so it looks like it’s barely been touched and he’s not been here doing this the whole time?

He gathers himself and tries to ignore the mirror behind the bar that will serve only to fuel his self-consciousness.

What he feels when he sees her step through the door is equal parts panic and soaring, lifting euphoria; a thrill-seekers’ fear of flying.

The worries disappear but the nerves linger a while longer as he greets her and buys her drink. She is nervous herself and if he were more calm and relaxed he would spot it in the way she touches her hair and adjusts and smooths her blouse.

They drink quickly and the nerves melt away so that they are arm in arm as they leave and she leads the way to the restaurant. It is small and intimate, low lighting and quirky decor. Campbell is hit by the smell of spices as he walks through the door, saffron and Harissa and cumin. The tables are arranged so that each one has its own space and is separate from the next but they follow the waiter through a passage and into another room where the tables are lower and the floor covered with elaborately woven rugs. There are soft cushions at these tables and Lisa turns to smile at him, clearly delighted at this touch of middle-eastern authenticity.

‘You like Lebanese food?’ she asks and Campbell is about to shrug but stops himself and nods instead, smiling. He’s never eaten Lebanese, never been to Lebanon, but the effort she has made and the eager look on her face deserve better than a shrug.

‘We sit on the floor?’

‘Why do you think I’m not wearing a skirt?’ she says as the waiter helps her off with her coat. She turns and lets it drop from her shoulders into his hands and Campbell gets that feeling again, the same one as when she walked into the bar. She has long fitted black trousers that reach up over her hips and above her waist. She wears a sheer cream silk blouse and as the waiter takes her coat she smooths her hair down over one shoulder where it sits on her collarbone like a curled up cat.

When their eyes meet, she has a quizzical look on her face and she looks briefly to his right.

‘Sir?’ Another waiter has appeared next to him and is offering to take his coat.

He flushes in embarrassment at having been caught staring, and he turns away a little as he takes his coat off and hands it over, so as to hide his reddening cheeks.

He recovers his composure sufficiently to offer a hand as she sits down and then he lowers himself in opposite her.

They order prosecco and she guides him through the menu, pointing out her favourites and asking what he likes, what he wants to order, but he places himself in her hands and she orders for the both of them.

As the alcohol does its work, Campbell begins to relax and notices the nerves that seem to underlie her chattiness and excitement. He is happy to let her do the talking, to listen to her, and he lets himself think, just for a moment or two, that she might be nervous about what might follow the meal or what she has in mind.

Quickly he chases the thought away. He has no time for such distractions, but as he tries to stay focused and in the moment, tries not to think about her bedroom, his mind snags on something else that throws him completely.

It is hard to pin down at first, just a fleeting sense of fear, of more than simply making a fool of himself. A sense of deja vu, or of standing too close to the platform edge and feeling but not seeing what is coming.

He feels his guts shift and he knows that his expression has changed even before he can stop it and fake his way through. She sees it and she stumbles a little, her enthusiasm dented. He hurries a smile up onto his face and blurts something bland in response to what she was saying.

‘Are you alright Daniel?’ she says with a frown that he recognises it is his sole responsibility to shift.

‘Fine, yeah. Food’s lovely.’

‘Mmmn,’ she murmurs a response that lacks conviction but not because she disagrees about the food. ‘You just… you looked a bit off for a moment. Like I said something awful, or you’re having second thoughts.’

Oh God, he thinks, now he’s going to have to say something to convince and reassure, something he might not really want to say right now. Not with that unnerving edge-of-the-platform feeling still nagging at him.

‘No, no. It’s… I…’ the words are not caught in his throat, they just aren’t there.

‘Oh no. You think this is a mistake. You think you’ve made a mistake.’

Somehow, for a moment, he does. He has no idea why he thinks that, but is equally certain he cannot say so. The look on her face, wounded vulnerability, cracks a line through his heart. Steals it.

Campbell crumbles. Before his head knows what his hands are doing they are reaching for hers and holding them.

‘Lisa, no. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life and a ton of bad calls but this is not one. This is the opposite of that.’

She looks at him, up through thick eyelashes and long hair.

‘You’re lovely, you’re gorgeous – proper actual gorgeous. And smart, and lovely…’ he says, knowing his cheeks are red and that he is talking over the voice in his head that wants him to listen.

‘You said lovely twice.’

‘I meant both.’

‘Table seems quite big, all of a sudden.’

She pivots from sitting to kneeling and places her hands on the table and leans forward. He sits forward to meet her, raises a hand to push back the hair that has dropped from behind her ear.

The kiss is brief but seems to linger long after she sits again and the silence that follows is pregnant and electric and awkward all at once. She tops his wine glass off and he breaks the silence with a ‘thank you’.

‘Look, it was just work stuff, if I looked off. It just pops in there sometimes and I can’t switch it off.’ She nods, like that could well be the sort of thing to explain it, like she is accepting the plausibility of the explanation, rather than the explanation itself.

The tension dissipates as more wine flows and he takes a bathroom break to gather himself, staring at his own reflection and tries to summon up a good explanation for that creeping unease that won’t quite shift.

He’s just scared, he decides, because he hasn’t been close to anyone for a long time. Not since the incident three years ago.

 

[] TWENTY FIVE

 

Lisa makes the universal gesture for the bill by signing an imaginary signature in the air at a passing waiter and then leans in.

‘Coffee is terrible here, I have the good stuff at home.’

That, he supposes, must constitute an invitation. She takes her coat from the waiter so that Campbell can help her into it, a small gesture of contact and intimacy. As they step through the door and into the blustery night, he feels her small warm hand slide into his and he squeezes silently.

She leads the way and Campbell squints into the wind and rain that has whipped up whilst they were inside. Headlights glare up from the wet road and a sharp gust whips her hair across her face, making her shriek and then giggle.

Campbell notes the empty streets and the cosy looking homes, everyone indoors, TV on, cup of tea.

He sees someone jogging at the far end of the street, in a t-shirt and shorts and a woolly hat the only concession to the weather. He admires the hardiness and determination on display, then feels Lisa press closer to him, notes the fuzzy feeling of the booze and the full belly and reconsiders that the hardiness and determination might just belie loneliness and a lack of options. Campbell considers that it is him, with the sated appetite and the wine-buzz and the beautiful girl on his arm, whose lips he can still feel somehow that is worthy of admiration.

Such is the way of things, he knows well enough from experience, that before the fall comes the pride. Tonight is no exception. Lost a moment in his reverie and starry-eyed daydreaming he pays no heed to the sound of someone approaching from behind. Too late he registers that where those feet are heading is not past him but for him.

The attack comes fast and the manner of the targeted blows tells of experience and purpose. A jab to the kidneys, a kick across the back of his legs buckling his knees and he goes down fast, his hand still gripped by Lisa who takes longer still to realise what is happening.

Turning to see what it is that Campbell might have tripped over, she sees the two of them looming over him, dark clothes, hoods and gloves and she is paralysed by indecision. He feels her grip his hand tighter then loosen it, like she is deciding whether to stay or to flee. He cannot see her, and does not hear much more than a frightened squeal of exclamation. He too does not know whether to keep hold of her hand, or have her run, get clear. Holding on seems at once both a protective gesture, and one which keeps her directly in harm’s way.

The pain in his kidney is intense and spreads across his lower back and his knees jar and sting where he lands on them. His free hand, the one not holding Lisa’s, is not free enough, stuffed into his coat pocket, but he gets it clear in time to break some of the fall and stop himself landing totally flat. He feels a kick to his back and it shunts him forward and then a fist glances off the side of his head on the left. The timing and spread of those two blows confuses him for a second but then he does the maths and realises there must be more than one attacker.

That decides it for him, to keep Lisa close. If she runs, if they are at all interested in her, then they can split up, one keeping him occupied whilst the other chases her down.

The thought galvanises him and as another solid boot lands in his side Campbell lets himself go with the momentum, going to ground, releasing Lisa’s hand and rolling over on his back so that he can recover his feet the quicker and out of their range.

He grabs her again and pulls her fast toward him as he steps in front of her. He sizes up the two of them and they waste no time in coming after him. They are bigger than he thought and though he can see little of their faces, they seem surprisingly old, adult. Not the no-good youthful street thugs he might have expected, with the loose-fit clothing and the wild fists.

They come at him with fast straight punches aimed high and then low, deliberate and accurate. He ducks one, takes another and sees stars dance as he tries to blink away the dazing effect of hard knuckles on his cheekbone.

He fires back at them, no idea which to aim at, just swinging wide and aggressive, catching air twice, before being winded. He swings again, backs away, pushes Lisa behind him and his next punch lands hard and heavy on an unguarded chin. There is no discernible effect on his assailant and the pain in his fist tells him something he feels all too clearly – even if he lands more punches, he’ll still be worse off. What then? Surrender?

Right there, cocooned in the furious moment, he cannot see what the way out might be, nor what they want, other than to beat him. They will get what they want in that respect, but for now, for Campbell, it’s all about delaying it.

He feels his lip burst and fatten and when another fist – or was it a knee? – lands in his guts, he feels them both smother him and he is bundled over. He feels strong prying hands on him and realises that his pockets are being searched, feels them emptied.

And then it stops.

After that, as the frenzied, crowded night opens out again and the air and rain get back in, he lies there long minutes slowly unfurling himself from the foetal bundle of limbs he’s formed himself into and lets the rain soothe his face. The smart dark suit that he’s made an effort for her with is torn and scuffed and soaking and somewhere along the line he has lost a shoe and it is only when the wind drops and stops hissing through the trees that he picks up on the other sound, of Lisa quietly sobbing.

 

[]TWENTY SIX

 

The death of the man named Marcus has rattled Hogg, but not just because he’d regarded the man as hard or dangerous, which he had, but because it has rattled Horner.

There had been changes in personnel and a clear ratcheting up of Hogg’s side of the project. He had been issuing login details, ID codes and secure passwords, activating the dummy email accounts that each new user would need to plug themselves in to the network. Everything encrypted and scrambled, the message content not text based, but rather imaged, like a graphics file where the wording was stylised and hard to read, even to a human eye, impossible for a computer searching for words and sentences. Each image had a cypher key to run it that would make it viewable.

Horner had been talking to him weeks before about each phase of the plan and its roll out and Hogg had the clear sense that it would be carefully controlled and each participant’s involvement dependent on some form of agreement.

Now though, with the pace stepped up, Horner was dropping some of his rigid requirements and pressing Hogg into cutting corners. He had asked at one point to abandon the single message approach and send everything out at once, a deluge rather than the drip-drip of data that Hogg was managing.

He had won that point, calmly explaining that considering the sensitivity of the operation, any such large scale burst of communication might catch the eye of a watching surveillance agency. And God knew these days they were always watching.

The subsequent phases would add layers to the process, making the trail that much harder to detect, by using mobile phone SMS and social networking sites to send out information. Eventually they would all find themselves on the inside of the wall, locked into a secure site on the hidden internet, unfathomable URL web addresses, unfindable by search engines.

From there instructions would be posted, clear and simple, and they would begin with a demonstration so that everyone could see for themselves that what Horner was telling them was about to happen would do so exactly as described. They would need convincing, and all of them would no doubt suspect a trap.

So Hogg kept at it, fuelled by energy drinks and regular fast food deliveries he maintained a constant output and monitored reactions; seeing where messages were opened and read, where instructions followed and the next step in the chain completed. He had it mapped out on his screen and watched as the reds turned green, words and numbers denoting targets and progress.

In under 12 hours he would finish his work and he would put phase one, and himself, to bed.

 

 

[] TWENTY SEVEN

 

He feels that urge to get back in the gym, or run until it burns, to incinerate some of the creeping sense of frustration and impotence. But the cracked rib is making breathing uncomfortable as it is, let alone any greater exertion. His arms and his legs ache and the patchwork of bruises and scabbed cuts that are flowering from his face down to his legs are going to leave him marked for some time, in lots of ways.

He tries not to think about Lisa and the way he left her in the morning. She had struggled to get him up off the wet ground, had almost had to fight him to agree to go home with her, so strong was his instinct to be alone. But the torn, sodden clothes and the missing wallet had put paid to that argument. When she tried to help him change and to patch up the worst of the wounds he had pushed her away, irritated by the feeling of emasculation, mummy’s little soldier.

He had to use her phone to report his lost cards and mobile phone but doing so through a fat lip and bruised jaw had been an awkward and repetitive task and the more humiliating for it. He imagined her sniggering when he had been forced to correct the call centre operative that his name was Campbell, not camel. She had turned away then, perhaps laughing, perhaps just from pity, though neither of those was any comfort.

He had shared her bed, at her insistence, but balled up and with his back to her, not so much sharing, as simply occupying. Bruised body clenched like a fist.

He rose early, having slept badly, and left before she could get up and offer any help or hospitality.

Campbell had made his way home with a borrowed ten pound note and tried his best to duck and hide from the sense of deja vu, the burgeoning discomfort about the way things had gone with Lisa, though what was nagging him he could not pinpoint, or didn’t want to.

Something had snagged during dinner, well before the attack had left him so exposed and helpless. An idea, a memory, maybe just a reaction to feeling open and comfortable and where that might lead; lowered defences and a weak spot.

So back at home he is happier in his own space and can pretend that there is no shadow looming over him, no blot on his emotions that looks and sounds like a woman he has tried his very hardest to forget about but who Lisa has made him remember.

He scrubs and scalds himself under the shower, like the bruises might rinse away, or the scratches sear off his skin. He dumps the suit and the shirt. Too tattered to rescue, it will be marked by the event far longer than any repairs can fix. He will know. So he tosses the whole thing and shrugs off the fact of the price tag and that it was his favourite. He even throws the socks and underpants away after them, a symbolic gesture, but one that feels good all the same.

Though Campbell has tried hard of late to limit how much of the job comes home with him, physically and psychologically, he has found that it is more about rationing than cold turkey. Stopping completely would just leave too much on the desk, which means too long in the office. There’s a small stack of reports for him to sift through that he’s skimmed off the work pile through the week and brought back home, so he settles himself in with a hot drink and the stereo on low to trawl his way through the pages in search of signs of strength or weaknesses, of some truth amid the spin.

Campbell goes over those files of his own that he has been sitting on – some trade ideas that he is confident have some long term merits and that he has been acting on with small sums of his own money over the passing months, equal parts conviction and wanting to check that he’s right before he puts them in front of Lawson.

But there are four slim but densely packed documents that need his attention and will demand a little more than a skim. All of them are filled with charts and tables and each of those cross-referenced with footnotes. Campbell chases his tail through the pages and the small print, finds dead ends where the notes are supposed to lead, or data and conclusions that appear to come from nowhere, based on nothing previous.

He puts some of it down to inexperience but there are patterns swirling in the mist and as he gets near to pinning something down the soft bing of his phone distracts him.

The text from Lisa has been there ten minutes already, but the pages had him locked in and engrossed.

She asks how he is and whether anything needs rubbing better.

Such a thing would – should – put a smile on his face and be thinking up a flirtatious, entendre-laden reply. He begins typing a brief response, but then thinks better of even that. Figures a bad reply is worse than none at this stage. He’s not sure about how he’s feeling right now – the troubling echo of Sarah that he seems to hear is not something he can ignore, but neither is it something he should let get in the way. Perhaps a little perspective is what is needed. Perhaps a little time and a decent bit of sleep will clear his head. She would, surely, excuse him for failing to engage just now. He’d just had his ass comprehensively kicked. What did she expect?

Back into the pages, he puts down the third report and begins leafing through the fourth before he realises that he has read it once already, that it is in fact the first one he read. Confused he lays them out on the carpet.

Crystal Dynamics

Forward Solutions

Hunter Technologies

Orbit Capital

There is nothing in the names that strikes him as unusual, but for a moment their blandness, their very corporate-predictability seems odd. Like they are too nondescript, wanting not to be noticed.

But that’s not it. That’s nothing more than a sore head, lack of sleep and spending his weekend checking through dry corporate analysis when he thought he might instead have spent the day with Lisa, his clothes discarded for different reasons.

There is something formulaic about the reports, something not quite cut-and-paste, but not clear and distinct enough from each other than he might expect. It is hard to know what exactly he expects to be seeing that sets one report apart from another given the subject matter. But as he jumps between them, though it takes another hour, he begins to tease out the clue, deep and delicate though it is, like a splinter in skin.

There are names in amongst the reports, names of holding companies, or custodians. No people, but names that repeat where he cannot see reasons for it. They all seem to relate to different companies in different sectors. Separate and unconnected.

So why these names? Why the link?

Was it one? There was every chance that with the exhaustion and the unceremonious humbling he has suffered at the hands of two burly assailants, in front of his would-be girlfriend, that his synapses are misfiring.

But he wants something to grab on to that helps him not think about Lisa or about Sarah, or about hard boots and wet streets and so he grabs it and holds.

He gathers the reports into a backpack, finds a spare Oystercard that he keeps handy for travel or cash-flow emergencies and heads out.

There is much to be said for working at home, but sometimes, there’s really no substitute for being in the office if you want something done.

 

[] TWENTY EIGHT

 

It’s four pm when Campbell gets there and the guy on the security desk scarcely acknowledges him as he passes through the lobby and heads for the lifts.

There is an eerie, deserted feeling about the office, as there always is when a place associated with bustling activity is found empty and peaceful. The large glass double doors are open so he breezes past the cleaning lady and her trolley and keeps his security pass in his pocket, making him feel intrusive and clandestine.

He sits at his desk and checks his impulse to turn on the computer and log in. There is nothing there he needs, the reports he wants are all paper documents in the stacks around his desk. But there’s also that lingering feeling, from ghosting through the doors, that he is not officially here, his presence unrecorded, and he is happy to extend that.

For a minute, looking at the ordered bundle of documents, he wonders whether he has made a rock for his back. There are so many, all blurred in his memory that even if he could recall which one referred to which company, which prospective trade, that isn’t really what he wants anyway. If pressed, by Lawson or Burlingham, he could rattle off the basic details of each firm – their main function, market capitalisation, share price, balance sheet. These details he has sifted and filed in his head.

But what he seeks are smaller, more arcane pieces of information. He has become more certain, from seeing those names in the four reports at home, that they are familiar from somewhere else. He has seen them before, several times, in the same context. In these reports. Somewhere in this haystack there are needles and there is only one thing to do.

He skims at first, flicking pages and scanning fast over the lines and charts for the keywords he is after.

Seven Mile Securities. It almost eludes him at the first pass but his brain is telling him to hold up, go back. He puts the report aside and leaves it open at the page.

Three more reports yield nothing and his pace is slowing as he finds himself skimming less and reading more, determined to see it again, certain that it’s more than one.

Icarus Financial.

It stands out because it is trying so hard to hide, the smallest of small print, deep in a dense paragraph of legalese that nobody reads.

Icarus. The more he looks, the more strange it seems. It was there in the Crystal Dynamics document too. And in the Hunter Technologies report. But it’s the name that jars. Wasn’t Icarus’ story a cautionary tale? The man who flew too high, too close to the sun, brought about his own downfall?

Why name your company that? Most firms went for names that suggested strength, dynamism, innovation. They use cod-Latin or referenced mythology. Or simple family names.

He sifts through more bound pages, his eyes straining as he picks through line after line of words that have lost any meaning. Inside thirty minutes he has two more hits; Icarus appears again in a report on a company called Bodden Ventures, and one called Barracuda Trading. Both of those throw up another name. Stingray Securities pops up in both, twice in the pages of the Hunter Technologies report when he checks back and again in Crystal Dynamics.

Campbell stacks all the reports on his desk and looks at them. He has an itch he cannot scratch as he stares at the pile. Something.

Something.

Yes. He’d left a half dozen reports in Lawson’s office earlier in the week with his own notes and feedback scribbled in the margins.

Campbell swivels the chair until he’s facing the office door, which is open, but feels as though any entry would be barred if he tried. He looks around the empty office a while, swivels the chair, like a naughty child contemplating mischief. Then the decision is made and he is up and across the room before he can chicken out.

The chair in here is plush and luxuriously comfortable. It seems designed to remind the backside that occupies it of how wealthy and important it must be to get such a chair. For Campbell it just seems to tell him he doesn’t belong here, which is correct in more sense than one.

He finds the reports quickly and in them sees the same names pop up again; Icarus, Bodden, Stingray. All appear in one document with the words Seven Mile Solutions embossed on the front page. Campbell’s own scrawled handwriting is barely legible, even to his own eye, but he remembers the note he made about the hard-to-trace source of funding and cash flow that should serve as a red flag for Lawson: avoid.

Campbell gathers the reports up and starts to replace them as tidily as he can, but then a light bulb goes on in his head and he makes instead for the copy room.

Rounding the corner he stops and almost shouts aloud his surprise. Someone is in there, bent over the shredder, stuffing wads of papers into the chewing metal jaws of the machine. Campbell steps backward out of sight and looks again.

Giles Lawson looks odd without the posh-boy outfits Campbell is so used to seeing – the expensive knitwear, brown suede loafers, chinos. The plain white t-shirt and jeans look borrowed on Lawson, but it is Sunday after all.

So why is he here? He sees Lawson reach for another fistful of pages and notices the size of the stack he is taking them from which rises more than a foot from the table top.

The grinding whirr of the machine drones on and slowly, quietly Campbell backs away and returns to Lawson’s vacant office with the armful of reports. Hurriedly he fishes the smartphone from his pocket and turns on the camera. Quickly he begins to scan the relevant pages, feeling all the time the agonising slowness of the process. Lawson will be tied up for some time judging by the size of the stack he was shredding but there’s no way to know that he’ll stay there until he is done or come wandering this way.

He trots back to his desk, gathers his things and makes for the main door when he spots the door to the staircase is closer by and makes for a quieter exit. He dabs his pass on the sensor and drops quickly down the several flights of stairs to the lobby where the security desk is unmanned now.

Campbell steps on the floor sensor that triggers the automatic door and waits for the large plates of glass to move.

‘Bye,’ says a voice from behind and he spins to see the tall shape of the security man making his way back from the rest room to his seat.

Campbell waves and steps through the door into the wet early evening.

He cannot pinpoint why he feels so rattled, why he avoided contact with Lawson. The feeling that the pieces don’t fit is worming into his guts, eating at him. It chases at his heels as he quickens his pace and when he looks back over his shoulder, up at the floor of the building he was just on, he can see a backlit figure against the glass looking down onto the street.

He cannot make out much more than a silhouette, but to stare any longer to try to make out if it is Lawson will only allow whoever is looking at him – if indeed they are looking at him – to get a clear view of his face. He turns away and keeps walking, only breathing when he is round the corner and out of sight.

All this effort to avoid thinking about the night before and to escape ghosts of his past that are stalking him and where has it led?

In fleeing trouble, Campbell reflects, he has simply run into more. Story of his life.

The feeling of deja vu is strong and persistent, like a scream in an echo chamber.

 

[] TWENTY NINE

 

This was, Michael Horner supposed, something like the way an architect must feel. All the careful conception and planning and painstaking design, attention to detail and clear technical specifications and then you had to hand everything over to someone else. After that you just watched and waited and hoped that the appointed personnel could adequately follow instructions to turn into reality, that which exists only in your mind.

With luck, what they did would closely enough resemble the glittering perfection of the idea.

But this was probably more complex than that, more delicate. Sure, a building would have elevators and air ducts, plumbing or wiring to ensure that the whole thing would either function or fail. But what Horner was building, or having built, was more organic and animate than a building, more abstract. It was frail and intricate but with the capacity for great strength and potential for significant power.

Having to stand back and see it constructed and grown into reality was agonising for Horner. Not just the loss of control, but worse, the surrender of it. The necessity to involve others, to give them tasks and then trust them to carry them out properly went against the sense of caution that had developed so keenly in the wake of the fiasco with the dam project and the young man who had sabotaged his best laid plans with such adroitness.

Horner had to be as careful as he had ever been. This for a man who had picked his way through international embargoes on the transport of arms to West Africa, the processing and distribution of conflict diamonds.

But the game he played then was for different stakes and contained a frisson of risk, the thrill of evading detection, of beating the system, being better. Now, there was simply no margin for error. Any mistake would be punished. Any oversight terminal.

At such times Horner knew that trust was a luxury that did not exist, fool’s gold. Did he trust Hogg, or the new security guy Rookes? Had he trusted Marcus? The answer was no to each of them, he had no trust nor true faith in any of them and he knew that their loyalty was a tradable commodity.

What was important, more so than reminding himself of these bitter truths, was to keep them paid for and extracting the maximum possible value from them all. Hogg was key and his work so far had proved pivotal. Horner understood precious little of the technical workings of the system that Hogg was constructing but knew enough to know that he was building it the way he was instructed and that Horner was getting what he paid for.

That had not been the case with Marcus of course, but the man had paid a higher price for his shortcomings than Horner had been paying him so he’d shrugged off the loss. If anything it simply served to accelerate the schedule.

Horner knew now that they could get to him and also that they had chosen not to. The message was a clear one and clearly received. Had they wanted him dead, then it would have been his corpse discovered on the beach with the crushed oesophagus and missing ID. That same ID dropping through his letterbox told him that they knew where he was, that they could get to him.

They wanted him alive and to finish what he was working on. Which meant that not only had they given him a chance to deliver, that they also backed him to do so.

But in necessitating this change of pace they had done him a small favour. The waiting was killing him. Now he could really shift gears.

 

[]THIRTY

 

Monday is uncomfortable for Campbell for a number of reasons. The cuts and bruises and swellings on his face attract much unwanted attention and he bores quickly of telling the story of the assault and more quickly still of the tide of sympathy that buffets him all morning. The injuries are themselves painful of course, aching and stinging to differing degrees, his joints stiff and sore.

But worse than this is the rock and the hard place he feels like he is sitting between with Lawson somewhere unseen on one side of the office and Lisa on the other. He prays fervently that he will not need to speak to either but is resigned to having his prayers ignored.

Lisa is unlikely, he feels, to avoid him and will want to check that he is OK. It took until nearly nine in the evening to reply to her text messages asking how he was, too cruel to say nothing in response, given her evident and genuine concern. But his words were carefully chosen to discourage any kind of conversation. If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.

Lawson was another matter. Campbell had drifted from one extreme to another in response to what he had seen, convinced that he had stumbled on something of real significance, that Lawson was not only up to no good, but that what Campbell had seen him doing was inevitably linked to whatever malfeasance was lurking in all those reports.

But then he would catch himself and try to douse the rising flames of his paranoia. Lawson was shredding papers; so what? Every office built up a surfeit of unnecessary paperwork; an overlarge order of marketing materials that were expired, research papers from long-dead deals and aborted trades. Perhaps Lawson felt that such a menial task was a waste of time for any of the staff in the office and a poor use of his own business hours and had dropped in to bury a couple of dead Sunday afternoon hours with something useful.

‘Wow. How does the other guy look?’ says Lawson appearing from nowhere.

Campbell smiles stiffly but says nothing.

‘Well when you hit it as hard as you do Dan, sometimes it hits back right?’

‘Funnily enough I was being very well behaved when this happened,’ he says, trying to sound breezy and unaffected.

‘What did happen?’

‘London,’ he shrugs. ‘Shit luck.’

‘You’re hanging out with the wrong people.’

‘Plus ca change.’

‘Indeed. Anyway Rocky, you got my reports?’

His guts drop and he wonders if the bruising and scrapes hide the fact that the blood has just left his face. The flat delivery is so matter-of-fact that for a moment he reads it as more than just an accusation, but a simple statement that Lawson knows exactly what he has been up to.

The silence seems sharp-edged and dangerous and Campbell dare not break eye contact.

‘Come on. You took about four home this weekend right?’

He tries, fails, to hide his relief when the penny drops and he begins to rifle clumsily through papers on his desk.

‘Look, drop them in when you find them, yeah?’ says Lawson. ‘You written notes up on them yet?’

Campbell thinks fast about what he has scribbled in the margin and how much of that he wants seen by his superior, that paranoia seeping back in again, the reluctance to trust anyone but himself. He knows where it stems from, the roots are buried deep, but he is surprised at the persistence of these new green shoots.

‘Not yet, no. I’ll load them on before eleven.’ The in-house software uses a database of the various stocks that are considered for investment, with all manner of information against them so that they can be accessed by anyone with the relevant clearance.

Lawson looks like he’s thinking about it and then has a better idea, though in truth it does not look like the better idea has only just occurred to him.

‘No, that’s OK. Just email me a few thoughts.’

Campbell nods and watches the other man’s back as he leaves and the green shoots of his burgeoning paranoia begin to lengthen and unfurl.

He pulls his smartphone out and brings up the internet browser, thinks for a second and flicks off the Wi-Fi so the handset is operating on his mobile network alone, not the office internet connection. He finds a common email provider and he sets up a brand new account, under the pseudonym of [email protected] It is done in minutes and he makes sure not to link the account to the email app on the handset.

He types up his feedback on the four company reports and sends it to Lawson and blind copies the email to this new covert account.

As he sends it he finds himself peering over the desk dividers and out at the office, as though he expects to catch someone watching him.

Ridiculous. He sees his own reflection in the glass of a meeting room twenty yards away and almost laughs aloud. Get up Campbell, he tells himself, get up and walk around and stop acting like an idiot.

He grabs his mug from the coaster and heads for the kitchen to do as any self-respecting Englishman in trying times would, to make a nice cup of tea.

When he rounds the corner he sees them immediately, though Lisa is harder to make out, obscured as she is by the tall, broad frame of Lawson.

Campbell is considering how best to deal with them when he registers the strangeness of their interaction. Lawson seems to be penning her in – not aggressive per se – but domineering and Lisa herself seems apologetic, obsequious and defensive all at once.

He is making his point firmly, whatever it is and she is nodding her surrender and dropping eye-contact. For an uncomfortable moment, it flashes into his mind that they might be romantically involved, which would make everything even more intractably complicated – or maybe much simpler – but he sees straight away this is no lover’s tiff. There is no affection in their body language, and though they stand close together, there is still a clear boundary of personal space.

No, this is clearly an impersonal exchange, but the manner of it, the way he leans over her and exhorts and pressures does not seem appropriate in a professional capacity.

In the blink of an eye, Lisa is looking right at Campbell and then everything is slower. She drops her gaze to the floor and says something. Lawson’s shoulders lift and unfold and he pivots away from her and strides off, hands in pockets, back to them both the whole time.

Campbell wants to dodge her all the more now, but he cannot look away. He had doubted his first thought about some romantic tryst, but the manner of their reaction was strange in the extreme. Why act that way if Lawson was simply upbraiding Lisa for some work related shortcoming; persistent lateness or ignoring the corporate social-network policy? Why get so in-her-face for spending too much time on Facebook?

She looks to be heading to her desk again and keeps her eyes on the carpet but then she steals a look at him and changes direction when she sees Campbell watching her.

‘How you bearing up?’ she asks. Too casual. Anxiety not hidden well enough.

Today her hair is up and she wears very little make up and a scoop-neck top that draws his eye.

‘What was that? Campbell says nodding in the direction of where she had been talking with Lawson.

‘Nothing, just…’ she looks at him as the sentence trails off and then raises a hand to his swollen, cut face.

He pushes it away. ‘Just…?’

She retracts her hand, looks stung at the rebuke. ‘Giles knows about us,’ she says.

‘Why should he care?’ he says and there’s a tone of accusation there that she cannot miss.

‘I don’t think he approves of office…’ and she lets it hang there as she looks him in the eye.

Romances.

He feels it like a jab to the ribs, like a well-aimed blow to his weak spot. Does it hurt because he wants it to be true, wants her words to be an affirmation, or because he feels himself recoiling, a woodlouse curling into a ball?

For a second he feels cornered and he simply returns her gaze, unable to decide on his next move, to reassure her, or to flee. He opts for deferral and raises his empty mug.

‘I really need a brew. You want a brew?’

‘Sure. Sounds good,’ she says as though good is the last thing it sounds.

‘Daniel,’ she begins as he busies himself with the kettle and the milk. ‘I don’t know what I did wrong the other night.’

He turns and raises a hand to stop her but she ploughs on.

‘Maybe I should have tried to help or done something like scream to get some help. Used the rape alarm maybe.’

‘No, Lisa,’ he starts, horrified that she seems to think that she carries some blame for not intervening.

‘Or maybe you felt embarrassed and I didn’t say the right thing.’

‘I wasn’t embarrassed,’ he says sharply, giving himself away. He was humiliated in fact, getting beaten so badly, so helpless to defend himself, much less her.

‘Sorry. I just feel as though… as though… I don’t know what I should say to you. Like I made it worse, or I just didn’t make it better and like you don’t want to know me now,’ she says and her eyes are trying to meet his but struggling.

‘Lisa.’

‘I don’t want you to not want to know me. I want to have done the right thing, or to do it now.’

He cannot find the words or the reserves of energy or emotional composure to deal with this, to ease her guilt and confusion when he is shouldering so much of his own. It is more than the simple fact of the humiliation he suffered, but that he had felt that first pang of doubt worm into his guts at dinner beforehand.

With the incident of seeing Lawson in the copy room and then with Lisa, and with all the rivers of data sluicing through his head he is incapable of clear thinking and decisive action in such a delicate matter. He opts again for deferral, putting off giving her any kind of answer in the hope that when he figures out what the answer is, she will still want to hear it.

‘There’s just too much going on, too much to think straight. Everything hurts Lisa.’

 

 

[]THIRTY ONE

 

His backside isn’t even in the seat of his chair when Lawson’s name appears on the caller ID of his phone. He waits before he picks up, just long enough to be sure he can keep his voice level.

‘Take your time,’ barks Lawson when Campbell answers.

‘Sorry. Making tea.’

‘Plans later?’

‘No.’

‘Need to talk to you about something. Let’s get drinks and I’ll talk you though it.’

Campbell says nothing for a second, assuming immediately that Lawson is referring to Lisa and his relationship with her But then, if he had any concerns about workplace relationships, would he not just have Campbell into his office for a quiet word?

‘OK. What time?’

‘Four. Today sucks, let’s get out early. Get you something to ease your pain.’

‘Sure.’

He replaces the receiver and figures he has half an hour before he’ll need to leave and get his things together for the train, so he sips at his tea and logs himself in to the database.

He pulls his notes together and starts typing names; Stingray Securities, Bodden Ventures, Icarus Financial, Crystal Dynamics, Seven Mile Solutions, Barracuda Trading, Hunter Technologies, Orbit Capital, Forward Solutions.

Nine names, all linked in some way, all cross-referencing each other. He looked at them awhile, wondering if a pattern lurked in there, waiting to be found. Barracuda and Stingray were both sea creatures. Two of them had the word Solutions in them. It was weak and Campbell could see nothing else but then why should he? Again he questioned himself. Was this all in his head? Had he been so conditioned to see trouble that he conjured it from nothing?

It was true that since the incident he had increasingly sought out risk and excitement, the return of his boring, quiet life suddenly unbearably dull and increasingly unsatisfying. The travelling had followed, then the touristy thrills like the bungee jump and the white-water rafting. The scuba diving had left him awed and exhilarated but at the same time showed him a certain tranquillity that struck a chord. It was exciting and relaxing at once, thrilling and peaceful and the standard safety approach of the buddy system ensured that you were not on your own, despite the inescapable sense of isolation, of being sealed in to all that gear alone but free in a boundless ocean.

He had sought out other ways to chase away the boredom, tried climbing and taken up caving. He’d tried a few boxing classes at the gym, but already new well enough he didn’t like getting hit, padding or no. But all the while Campbell had a lingering sense that he must stay fit and sharp, not let himself slip back to the way he had been before; complacent and comfortable, content with a sofa and a six-pack and out of breath running for the bus.

It was more about not wanting to feel so exposed as he had when the gatecrasher had done so much damage, not because he expected such a thing to happen again. Or perhaps after the dust settled, it had felt as though something were missing, or that what had been left behind was more than just a memory stick and a trail of wreckage. Something that in having rid himself of it, Campbell felt its absence keenly.

He pushed his wandering thoughts to one side and began printing all the data and reports stored on Scorpio’s systems and stuffed it into his bag before he headed out the door, a forced smile and a wave directed at Lisa on his way.

He skimmed the paperwork on his way home and tapped information into his smartphone as he went, building notes on a document app that allowed for little more than free-form text. It made it easier to tap in everything as it came to him but was not great for organising or ordering the information and the screen size made it hard to navigate.

But the process allowed him to organise his thoughts well enough and the beginnings of a framework took shape in his mind. Nothing yet was by any means clear but he was able to discern connections and links in what seemed to be a larger structure, like glimpsing the cranes and metal struts and girders of a new building through thick fog and from distance.

He sees Lawson heading for the lifts at four and follows after him, shooting Lisa a shrug as he passes her desk and she watches them both go.

Giles says nothing on the way down, nothing out the lobby and into the street and only opens his mouth the say the name of the bar they’re heading to but it’s not a suggestion and he isn’t asking Campbell’s opinion, just telling him where they are going.

At the bar Lawson sets up a tab and then picks out a gin he’s never heard of and the barman adds tonic and a quartered strawberry to two glasses and they head for a table near the window. Lawson starts making small talking as he drinks, pointing out almost every woman that passes the other side of the glass.

Campbell wonders if this is his crassly handled way to introduce the topic of office relationships but it starts to seem more as though Lawson is merely keen to sink his drink and get to the next one. He hands Campbell the small plastic token for the tab and sends him to the bar for more drinks.

As he waits he slips a hand into his right pocket to check his wallet and realises that his phone is gone from his left trouser pocket. He feels a jump in his stomach and then remembers that he left it on the table.

Relief that he has not lost it lasts fleetingly however. He knows that it is safe from any opportunistic passing-thief because Lawson is at the table to keep it safe. But that seems suddenly no comfort.

Campbell watched the woman at the counter being told the cost of her round of drinks. Only at this point did she consider opening her handbag to rummage for her purse and then begin to paw through it for the correct change. She eventually discovered that she did not have it and proffered a debit card instead.

Come on, thought Campbell. Not now. What’s wrong with having money ready before you ask the price?

The next customer seemed to take forever making his choice, perusing the array of spirits and beers though everything had been invisible to him while he queued. He finally settled on a lager Campbell all but elbowed him aside in his haste, slapping down a twenty pound note and pointing at the gin Lawson had selected.

He strode back across the room with the drinks in hand and tried to calm himself as he neared the table, exhaling long and slow.

Lawson was tapping at the screen of his smartphone and the screen looked white and filled with text but any more than that it was impossible to see.

He slowed his pace as he got closer, staring at the screen and watched as Lawson tapped through the settings and severed a Bluetooth connection. His own phone lay there on the table top, just where he’d left it. Unmoved?

Campbell slid the phone handset to one side, away from Lawson. After a moment, as Lawson remarked on the shortness of a skirt and sipped at the fresh gin and tonic, Campbell picked up the handset and checked it.

What he was checking for exactly, he wasn’t sure. There were no apps open that had not been open before he’d used it and the notes app he’d been picking through was minimised as he had left it. The Bluetooth was on, but that was often left on to connect with his computer at home. He recalled Lawson tapping through the Bluetooth options on his own phone as Campbell had returned and wondered if there were a way to check the history of what devices he had connected to. If there was he didn’t know it.

He was being paranoid again; his thrill-radar seeking for something that wasn’t there.

‘Have you ever been to the Caribbean Dan?’ Lawson says.

‘No, never been,’ he says.

‘You’ll love it,’ says Lawson and then winks at Campbell.

Lawson lets it hang there a while longer as he sips at the drink and waits for Campbell to ask.

‘We’re off to the Caribbean?’

‘We are.’

‘We is you and I?’

‘Work trip. Big one. Some key players out there and some big deals coming together.’

Campbell nods and wonders what to say about the sheer number of references he’s uncovered in the research he’s been doing. Is it even an issue that there seem to be so many links to Cayman? They all seem to be hidden in the paperwork, tucked into the shadows. But here is Lawson telling him straight out that they have interests in the Cayman Islands and need to travel there as a result.

‘It’s the stuff I’ve been working on is it?’

Lawson shrugs, sips. ‘Lots of stuff.’

‘I thought I was an analyst though. I mean, why am I needed if you’re going there to do deals?’ Campbell says, the thought just occurring to him. Lawson is being oddly tight lipped about it.

‘You have a problem with the expenses paid trip to Grand Cayman do you Dan?’

‘Not what I meant.’

‘Well what is it that you mean exactly? What is the problem?’ Lawson’s irritation is clear and Campbell isn’t sure how he’s managed to press the wrong buttons so fast. Maybe there’s something else on the other man’s mind, or maybe he’s annoyed that he has to take Campbell along on the trip with him. It is clear enough that Lawson answers to someone higher up the chain.

Lawson doesn’t wait for an answer and is off again. ‘I don’t have time for this sort of nonsense. We need you there, you’re coming. Clear enough?’ He stands. ‘Need a piss.’

Left to his own thoughts for a moment Campbell stews awhile and waits for the flush in his cheeks to subside. He can’t tell if he’s feeling riled because he’s been dressed down publicly by his boss or because the dressing down was so uncalled for.

He takes deep breaths, swigs again from the glass and calms himself. He considers the luck of being paid to go on this trip and also the instinctiveness of his reaction, so negative, so suspicious.

He tries to locate the source of his unease and he hears his friend Steve’s voice in his head, telling him to stop complaining about all the things in life that are happening just the way he wanted them to. To stop conjuring demons from the shadows of his imagination.

Lawson surely has a point too. He has been working on various Cayman-based companies and the idea of having him there with them to lend his expertise, tap the information he’s learned these past weeks probably makes it worthwhile, even if he does feel disconnected from the process itself.

Should he not see this as a show of faith and so soon in his tenure? What better endorsement of his performance than wanting him there on site when they tie up some deals at last – it’s not as if he’s seen many others happening so far. Lawson was undoubtedly a bristly character at times, but that didn’t make him an idiot.

Indeed, where was the other man? Campbell had been musing things for a good few minutes and suddenly noticed that he was still alone. Looking around he scanned the bar and tried to pick out the distinct look of his boss whose posh-boy appearance stood out in most places. No sign, although he noticed that the room was starting to fill up fast now as he looked around the room. Campbell’s eyes lingered as they searched, alighting on a group of laughing young women, a solitary striking red-head in a tailored suit, a short-haired woman who returned eye-contact. Or maybe she was just staring at the bruises. He almost missed Lawson, catching sight of him in the corridor leading to the bathrooms, talking guardedly with two men, their heads low and close.

Cocaine. It was his first thought and he felt his guts sink and twist. Lawson was barely half way through his second drink and now he was buying coke and would no doubt be forcing a wrap into Campbell’s hand soon enough and insisting he get himself to the bathroom to chop out a line.

This was not what he wanted at all. A night with Lawson was one thing, particularly in the mood he was in, but a coked-up Lawson quite another, let alone if Campbell was going to be pressured into getting high as well.

He considered bolting and heading out the door, maybe telling Lawson that he’d lost him in the bar, tried to find him in vain. But that wasn’t going to work, and would probably cause more problems than it would solve. And after all, giving someone you didn’t like the slip might be acceptable social behaviour in certain circumstances but not when he was your boss and he’d just handed you the expenses-paid bar tab whilst telling you about the expenses paid Caribbean trip..

Campbell knew he would need to ride this out as best he could, maybe just fake the drug taking – disappear into a cubicle for a few minutes here and there and hope that Lawson was too messed up to notice that he wasn’t wild-eyed and talking a hundred miles an hour.

He turned to look again and saw Lawson disappearing back down the corridor, making no doubt for the nearest flat surface with a tiny bit of privacy. Campbell shook his head and looked at the other man’s bottle, still half full, then his watch, which read just after five. Jesus. How about some impulse control?

 

[]THIRTY TWO

 

He spends two minutes wondering whether to wait for Lawson’s return or go after him and try to stall the man.

There was a break in the crowd which would mean that the wait for service would be short, and suddenly to urge for another drink to dampen his rising anxiety was fierce, but that would almost certainly mean surrendering their table. Still, it had been fifteen minutes or so since Lawson had left him and he was starting to wonder why he should be concerned about showing the other man any consideration where none was being shown for him.

As a handful of people filed in the door Campbell saw the opportunity to get served at the bar dwindling and jumped up and made his way there ahead of them. Lawson might bitch about losing their spot but Campbell would have worse to deal with tonight than that if the other man was in the bathroom with the coke this long.

He got himself another drink and watched as the group who had just come in and who he had beaten to the bar made for his vacated table and occupied it.

With a shrug he headed in the general direction of the bathrooms to make himself more visible to Lawson when he emerged and took the scenic route through the bar, brushing close to the suited red-head, passing face to face with the short-haired woman who looked him right in the eye again and smiled.

Campbell tried to play it cool, but there was no containing the smile on his own face. The girl was pretty and green-eyed and appeared to be alone.

Campbell paused for a moment, poised to say hello, but then had a flash of an image of being interrupted from any conversation with her by a hyped-up, nostril-pinching Lawson, fresh from the bathroom. He kept moving for the corridor, the smile in hibernation.

Picking his way through the crowd Campbell saw no sign of his boss and made for the door of the gents, a large chrome M occupying most of the surface, a W on the one next to it.

He placed his free hand on the door, looked back once over his shoulder to check he’d not missed the other man on his way back into the bar, perhaps whilst his attention had been diverted by one or two of the women he’d clocked. Nothing. No sign of the slicked back brown hair or the cocksure grin.

Stepping inside, there is another door to move through and then he is hit by the bitter smell of urine, undercut with bleach. Campbell’s nose wrinkles as he takes a few more steps inside and he nods at a man heading the other way past him out the door, his acknowledgement met with a blank-eyed stare. Good manners in London tended to mean not actually speaking at all. A smile or a nod at most. Full blown interaction was for the tourists.

There are three cubicles, two of them open and the one at the end closed tight. He waits and listens, expecting to hear the sound of sharp phlegmy inhalation, but the dull thud of the music from the bar is all he can hear, rumbling through the wall.

He waits a beat or two, hesitant to call to Lawson through the door for fear of upsetting him, or upsetting whoever else might be in there. He recalls the blank-eyed stare of the man he just passed and wonders how things are done in this type of place, a notch or two above what he’s used to.

His mouth is open, Lawson’s name on his tongue, when the click of the door behind him stops him. He turns his head to look and two men walk in behind him, both sinewy and grizzled looking, unshaven in a way that tells of lethargy rather than vanity. They look straight at him and he thinks better of making any attempt at conversation or even eye contact and he looks at the floor. They are out of place here and he’d on edge from the off.

They cannot be avoided so easily however and he can see in his peripheral vision that they are making straight for him. In this closed space, there is nowhere to run, although the thought of making for one of the spare cubicles and bolting himself inside does cross his mind.

‘You the man then?’ comes the question though it takes Campbell a moment to decipher the rapid-fire delivery. The accent is untypical for this postcode. No plummy tones, or clipped pronunciation, but proper London.

‘I’m sorry?’ he says and regrets sounding so formal, feels like he might make himself a target if he sounds so well-spoken.

‘The man. For the gear yeah?’ It comes at him thick, like there’s no space bar.

He opts for silence and shakes his head, frowning.

‘The gear, man. The fuckin’ stuff. You the man for it?’

‘You’ve lost me mate. I think you’re after someone else.’

‘Jesus Christ man, come on,’ says one and Campbell’s shoulders lift and square a little as the two of them crowd in on him. ‘Fuckin’ slow.’

‘I… listen. Honestly, you’ve got the wrong man. I don’t know what you’re after lads, I’m just having a beer here, right…’ he says, trying a conciliatory tone.

Things happen quickly then, start to blur and flash before he can get hold of things and slow them down. One of the men moves in closer to him, head low and eyes locked on his, barely and inch from his face and the other man looms around to form a closed circle and from somewhere inside jackets and a flurry of hands there’s a small, full plastic bag being pressed into his palm. It is no larger than say, a boiled sweet, plump and round in its wrapping, but significantly less innocuous and he tries to pull away but there’s no space to move, nothing but the wall and the corner he’s been backed into.

The closer of the two men is mumbling something low and unintelligible and Campbell is so crowded in that he cannot tell which of them is trying to pass him the small item that he does not want but as he tries to pull his hand away and dodge the handover there are hands reaching into his own pockets, swift and urgent and he begins to protest, begins to hope that if it is Lawson in that cubicle that the noise will draw him out to his aid, but things keep happening and Campbell is simply lost in the current.

He tries to twist his hips in an attempt to pull his pockets away from prying hands, feels the sting and ache of his injuries being knocked and it only now registers that he may be about to be mugged again for the second time in a few days and then there’s a click from behind them and the door is opening and what brief shred of relief that registers is scattered immediately as he sees the looming shape of the bouncer walking in and clocking the scene.

The two men break ranks on him and as they do so they shove him back against the wall violently and begin cursing him, pulling away as if stung.

‘Fuckin’ prick, man’ says one. ‘Fucking queer.’

They move backwards fast and seem to bounce off either side of the approaching doorman despite the tiny space his bulk leaves on each side and he regards them both coolly as they pass.

‘Alright lads? What’s this?’ he asks but he does not pursue them. He turns to Campbell, turns to the scowling man with the bruises and cuts on his face, the face that knows trouble. ‘What’s up here then? What’s going on?’

Campbell does not give an answer because he doesn’t know what the answer is. He shrugs and starts trying to form a response but the bouncer is looking at him suspiciously.

‘What is it?’ he prompts, not satisfied with the silence.

Then he points at Campbell’s waist. ‘Pockets.’

‘What?’

‘Empty your pockets please. Sir. Need to see.’

The accent’s not so thick as the two vanishing men but thick all the same and Campbell wonders if he has misheard but then realises that he hasn’t, that the bouncer would indeed look to check the pockets of anyone behaving suspiciously in a bathroom. That’s fine, he thinks, except that those two just had their hands in his and so he’s suddenly not sure what he might pull out. Empty wallet, or something full.

The wallet is still there, light a few cards which were lifted a few nights previously, but nothing else is missing, nothing new. He pulls out a handful of coins and house keys and holds it all up for inspection.

The other pocket is gestured and he doesn’t feel it straight away; his fingers hit the phone first. But as he moves his hand over it to pull it out, his fingertip presses into the firm edge of something plastic that has no place there. He shows the phone to the bouncer who nods and looks down again at the pocket.

‘Empty?’ he asks. Campbell nods and withdraws involuntarily as a hand reaches out and pats the spot where the plastic lump sits.

‘It’s not mine,’ he blurts out, the panic spiking suddenly.

‘Mmn. Never is,’ comes the flat response and the bouncer holds a hand out in front of him. Put it there.

Campbell takes it from his pocket and sees it for the first time. A small plastic bag with a sealable strip along the top, and below the line a plump little pebble of white, residual powder dusting the inside of the plastic where the rest of the contents has settled. ‘Those guys…’ he says feebly, pointing at the door.

‘This establishment,’ begins the bouncer as he looks at Campbell over the packet of cocaine, ‘Operates a zero tolerance policy towards drugs and drug use.’

‘Listen, please. I came in to find my mate…’

‘Yeah?’

‘And then they came in and started asking me stuff. Was I the man and all this.’

‘Yeah?’

‘All up in my face and trying to give me that.’

‘Oh yeah?’

None of this is being bought and the other man seems amused at the floundering, laughable attempts to talk his way out of it. Campbell stops, seeing the dead end he is in.

‘This is two grams mate. Three probably. Three grams of coke. Zero tolerance, you stupid prick. Yeah? Three grams of zero tolerance.’

The music keeps on thudding through the walls and the bouncer keeps staring at him, challenging him to make another attempt to explain the baggie of coke being held in front of his face.

The door handle clicks again but nothing follows and Campbell takes a second to register that the departing strangers must have locked it behind them. There’s a hammering on the wood and a shout from beyond as a drinker from the bar protests at the barrier. The bouncer’s head turns and Campbell’s panic turns to flight and he doesn’t stop to think about what he’s doing, but goes with the instinct.

He barrels past the big man, through the gap and knocks him off balance as he goes. The doorman roars in anger and Campbell hits the door in two strides, slips in the wet and scrambles at the lock handle on the inside.

By the time he has flicked it open the bouncer has recovered himself and closed the gap and a meaty fist grips shirt and skin, somehow finding an as yet unbruised part of his flesh, but the door is open now and the drinker on the other side has the entry he was demanding, albeit blocked by the two men crashing through it.

Campbell twists and pulls and tries to free himself from the grip of the bouncer who has stumbled in his pursuit when the door he expected to push his prey against opens instead. There is a press of bodies as the three of them tangle and try to keep their feet and it is only as Campbell fails to do so that he sees his chance.

Tripping over legs he goes over and feels his shirt come free of clasping knuckles. He lands hard on his knees, feels jarring pain, ignores it and as he looks up to get his bearings, to figure a gap through the crowd in the corridor and the bar beyond he sees instead he is facing the wrong way. But the wrong way is the right way because he sees a few yards distant a Fire Exit sign and a push-release bar across the door. He stays low and scrambles forward, staying clear of the bouncer’s grasping hand and then springs to his feet and is between two people and smashing hard into the door which doesn’t shift a single inch.

He pushes on the bar again, once, twice and shoulders the door hard. Nothing but an explosion of pain in the shoulder that he landed on the other night when he was beaten to the ground. Nothing when he kicks the door and only when he grips the bar in furious frustration does it occur to him to pull the bar up instead of pushing down.

It pops open with a rush of cold air and there is a screech of fire alarm in his ears before he steps out onto the concrete of the fire escape and the short stretch of alleyway.

There are shouts behind him as the fire alarm gets going and Campbell wastes no time in moving, sprinting for the street and looking back quickly over his shoulder to see the scarlet face of his pursuer emerge form the door. He hits the end of the alley fast and as he does so, another huge specimen of a man looms up in front, same suit, same haircut as behind, and Campbell wonders whether there are two of them, miked and up and in radio contact. But the speed of his approach, or the sluggish response of the other man mean that he’s past him and away before he can figure out who he is and will not wait to find out. A half empty pavement and a clear street is all he needs to put distance between them and he hits top speed and keeps it up for as long as he can, ducking left and right as he goes, the better to elude them if they are even still following.

Only when he stops and finds a quiet spot does he notice that his phone is ringing, the vibrate function buzzing against his thigh.

‘Giles.’

‘Where the hell are you?’

‘Where are you?’

‘I’m outside the bar. The fire alarm’s gone off, we’ve all been kicked out.’

 

[] THIRTY THREE

 

‘Weird.’

She says it with a flat intonation, as though it were a statement rather than a question, but he has volunteered no information and the pinched crease of her brow is an effective question mark.

‘Weird,’ he says. ‘Weird.’

The question mark sits there on her brow as she watches him think through what words to use, where to begin.

‘The whole thing. The big chat that took not time. The bathroom.’

Lisa looks at him patiently, though in truth the patience is thinning.

‘The bathroom especially.’

‘Wine?’

‘Please.’

She pours a generous top up, hoping this might prompt a freer and more revealing tongue but hopeful she will not need to wait for the wine to do it, more that he is suggestible to her will.

He takes a deep swallow and murmurs approval. ‘It seemed like he had something big to say, but actually…’ Campbell shakes his head searching for an explanation. ‘It was nothing that he couldn’t have said in the office. It was like he made it a bigger deal than it was. Even as he was trying to downplay it.’

‘Maybe they’re just a bit nervous of new faces, these Cayman guys, and he wants to prepare you for it. This business, everyone plays their cards close.’

‘But he could take a photo and my CV with him if I’m not there to do the deals. ‘

‘Giles maybe wants to cover all the angles? Why would he take you along and pay for hotels and plane tickets if he thought it would be pointless?’

He shrugs, looks at her, through her.

‘Maybe he feels that just a look and a handshake will be enough to show them there’s more to Scorpio than what they’ve seen before, that we’re getting bigger. Small margins, you know. Little things making a difference.’

‘Exactly,’ she says brightly, eager for something positive to run with. ‘If some of these guys are in need of a bit of convincing then obviously they’ll want to try that bit harder, show them that there’s a bit more to us. They’ve probably seen your CV already, or at least Giles will have sent them your bio. You aren’t just filling a chair Dan, you’re here for a reason. You should have seen Giles when he knew you were joining.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah. He was really buzzed. Really thought he’d hooked a catch, you know. You could tell he felt like he’d got the one he wanted.’

He considers that a moment in silence.

‘The bathroom,’ he says finally, a look on his face like he’s been forced to taste something extremely sour.

‘What happened in the bathroom then? Which bathroom?’

‘The bar. Giles disappeared for a pee and was gone ages. Like twenty odd minutes. He’d just had a pop at me for questioning why I needed to go to the Caymans so I was sitting there feeling like a naughty schoolboy and waiting. Anyway, I went looking for him in the bathroom after a while and…’ He is still not clear how to describe what took place in there, struggles to recall what was actually being said to him and how.

‘These two guys follow me in.’

‘They followed you? How do you know they were following you?’

‘Walked in behind me, then. As in followed after me. But then they came straight over to me, as though they were looking for me, started talking to me and asking questions.’

‘What questions?’

He shakes his head and stares into space, like he might pluck out the answers that are floating there, invisible. ‘I could hardly understand them. Accents were thick. They were asking if I was the man, or something.’

‘What man?

The man. Like, you da man!’

‘What does that mean?’

‘No clue. But then they were getting up close and one of them tried to give me something. Some coke. I mean I didn’t know it was coke at the time, it was just some small packet in my hand-’

‘You took it?’

‘No, I mean, he was putting it in my hand and I was trying to move my hand but I was up against the wall, and they’re all up close, really close and they were trying to grab my pockets and…’

‘Were they selling you the coke?’

‘No. Well, perhaps. But I wasn’t asking them to sell me the coke.’

‘Maybe they just figured that’s what you wanted and got confused – all the accents and the naughty geezers and all that.’

He smiles. “Naughty geezers? Yeah. Maybe,’ he says as though he’s really trying hard to accept that could have been a possibility, really stretching to get there. ‘But then the bouncer comes in and then suddenly they were pushing me away and calling me names.’

‘What names?’

‘Fag. Queer. Something like that. And pushing me, like I was the one all over them instead. It was so weird, but maybe they were just trying to confuse the bouncer, make it look like something else. Like an argument instead of a drug deal.’

‘What does the bouncer do?’

‘Doesn’t do much to stop them. Asks what’s going on but they leg it and then it’s just me and he starts asking to look in my pockets, as if he’s just starting to realise what might be happening, even if I hadn’t. But then I realise there’s coke in my pocket.’

‘I thought you said you didn’t take it?’

‘I didn’t, but they must have put it in my pocket. Maybe they were trying to get the cash off me, thought I was being a bit slow on the uptake or something. One of them said that I think, said “fuckin’ slow, man”.’ He tries to say it in the accent and Lisa smirks.

‘Anyway, when the bouncer saw the coke I knew I was screwed, so I just panicked and ran.’

‘Where was Giles whilst all this was happening?’

‘I thought he might have been in the closed cubicle, but he never came out.’

‘Perhaps he was there the whole time? Scared to come out.’

‘He was still in the bar when he called after I got out. But I saw him head towards the bathrooms and I saw him in the corridor before I went looking. He was standing there talking-’

The silence drops into the room like a rock, large and heavy.

‘What?’

Talking to someone. Two men.

The two men. He sees them clearly in his mind; heads low as they talked to Lawson, wiry and grizzled and quite clearly the same two who will accost Campbell in only a few minutes time when he goes to seek out Lawson in the bathroom and finds only trouble there.

‘What Daniel? What is it?’

He drinks again, two big swallows. ‘I think I’d like some more wine.’

 

[] THIRTY FOUR

 

He stares up at the bright clear sky so that his vision is filled and nothing else intrudes. The streaked white contrails of several aircraft criss-cross the blue, like they’re trying to sketch out a giant tic-tac-toe board.

Caspar Hogg thinks about that, about a game that always seemed to end in stalemate. Playing each board and never winning, never losing once the fundamental tactics were learned.

That’s where he is now it seems to him, trapped in constant stalemate. He cannot see a way to win, not when his opponent knows all the moves he can make and can see them coming and block if he tries them. But he’s not about to concede either, not about to drop his concentration and allow himself to be outmanoeuvred. He must keep playing and do so for long enough that at some point they will both simply agree to stop and to walk away. As if.

He has been busy these past few days, harvesting all the data as it comes, collating all the responses feeding back to his boss what he asks – who is on board, who has replied, who are they waiting for. He closes his eyes as his thoughts run back to the job.

Caspar does not know who they are, but whilst their randomly assigned tags give them equal anonymity, their varying significance is betrayed in Horner’s face each time the two men talk. He is more pleased to hear about some than others having indicated their approval and involvement. He is more anxious at some silences than others.

Caspar Hogg’s curiosity has wilted recently though and he no longer wishes to know what the significance is behind each random tag. He is in deep water now, has got in far enough and deep enough to feel how cold it is, how the current is pulling and he wants only to keep his feet grounded beneath him. To go further, he fears, will mean that the bottom may drop away and he will go under, the tide taking him and the cold snatching his breath away.

Horner’s reactions are about as controlled and measured as they have always been, but each conversation they have and every update Hogg delivers allows him to read Horner a little better and he maps those reactions against the name-tags and they stay with him, driftwood on the shore.

So now he too is finding himself pleased when certain tags pop up, more anxious when others still do not. He is beginning to know who to be afraid of.

No. It would be more accurate to say that he is beginning to know who to be most afraid of. He’s far enough along now to know that none of these individuals are going to friendly, trustworthy people. Anonymity is rarely sought by the innocent, and Michael Horner, though obviously a powerful and calculating man, appears to be near the bottom of this food chain.

Near the bottom, but still a step or two above Hogg.

The glare of sunshine behind his closed eyes dulls as a cloud blocks it out. He opens his eyes and looks up to see Rookes standing there over him. So a cloud of sorts.

‘What?’

‘Nice out today,’ says Rookes in a flat tone.

‘Very.’

‘You’re not supposed to be out.’

‘I’m taking some air.’

The eyes are blank as they stare back at him, the silence another dark cloud.

‘I’ve hardly been out of the chair for 24 hours.’

Rookes looks momentarily like someone’s hit the pause button, so completely still does he remain. Then slowly he raises his hands to the corners of his eyes and his expression drops to a look of exaggerated sadness and he dabs at the tears that aren’t there. Hogg wonders whether there ever have been.

‘Back at it. You can beach yourself when this is done,’ he says and he doesn’t seem to mean beach in the sense of going and lying on the beach like a holidaymaker so much as a stranded whale.

Fat jokes, thinks Hogg. Brilliant. It’s not so much the fat jokes that he really gives a damn about so much as the lack of effort or imagination. These men who all lack for wits so keenly because all Horner wants are thick-necks and hawk-eyes in his security detail.

Hogg hoists himself up and steps past Rookes who does nothing to move out of his way. Hogg stops and looks up at him, at the blank stare levelled at him that flicks to the birthmark on his face and holds there a beat before shifting back to his eyes.

‘Really?’

Rookes slowly steps clear to let Hogg move past and he walks a few paces and then turns to look at him.

‘Just ask. Just ask Rookes. That’s all. Don’t need to be such a prick the entire time.’

The smallest glimmer of a smirk and a tiny little glitter in the eye as he looks back at Hogg, eyes still fixed on his, rather than the birthmark.

 

*

 

Back at the workstation he fires up the machines and pulls a cold bottle of water from the fridge. The place is clean – someone has been sent in to do this whilst he was outside. Is that the security guys taking advantage of the quiet, or the cleaner merely waiting to do it when he isn’t around so she needn’t be anywhere near him any more than necessary. He sees again the button-pop off her dress, the tone of her skin and the faint blue of the veins meandering beneath.

The two computers exhale their hot breath into the room and the air-con fights back, hissing out the cold in a silent argument. The screens show that a glut of responses have come in, some of the data filtering through the dams he’s built upstream and he scans through, begins decrypting and finding where they’re from, which name-tags they correspond to.

He mentally ticks off another two of those Horner seems most eager to see and feels the relief and anticipates the satisfaction that it will give his boss. In all there are five responses and a response implies consent. They’ve not opened lines for clear communication or correspondence. This was not about talking, it was about laying out a gift upon the doorstep of each of them, an offer of redress and how to claim it.

There were now more than thirty respondents and less than twenty who had yet to respond. Hogg had been able to track the progress of the contacts they sent out and could see which had been delivered and accessed so he knew that a handful had still even to see what they had been sent. The rest, a dozen of them, were in possession of the message but had not yet reacted. Many would suspect a trap of course, but there was much to demonstrate otherwise and maybe these dozen were simply more cautious than the others, or less literate in the medium. Perhaps they simply did not possess the means to verify the truth of what they were seeing. Perhaps they were just thinking things over.

The alternative was that they had chosen not to respond and though Hogg didn’t know precisely what that might mean, he knew it wasn’t anything good, not the way Horner’s face twitched and tightened that little bit more each time Hogg told him about the holdouts.

He looked again at the dozen to see which had been silent longest. The longer they did not reply, it followed, the more cause to worry. As he quickly saw, nine of the twelve had only been in receipt for a short space of time; a few days at most.

Two had been almost a week, but one of those didn’t seem to concern Horner.

But there was one whose lack of a response stood out most. One of the first to go out, and received and accessed fairly promptly. One of the names that seemed most to etch tension into Horner’s face.

Stripes.

A randomly assigned name, as they all were, or so Hogg believed. They were all so innocuous and mundane that they had to be random.

Branch. Nimbus. Hind. They seemed featureless, meaningfully devoid of meaning.

But that was not to say that meaning could not be assigned, even unconsciously. Hogg saw something in his mind when he read that word, Stripes.

He saw a tiger, stalking in the long grass, poised and watching.

 

 

 

[] THIRTY FIVE

 

Harimau prowled the front of the room, his eyes behind dark glasses, his hands behind his back.

Dusan didn’t like this part. Never had.

The girls were lined up in no particular order along the back wall and not one of them was looking at anything but the floor.

Hari stopped moving and raised a hand up from his back to hang it out in front of him. He snapped his fingers loudly, twice. They all looked up, part shock, part obedience. All fear.

Hari returned to his slow walk up and down, his head level, eye line on the girls. He stepped forward and laid a gentle hand on one of them, blonde haired, slender, very short. No more than eighteen years old. He coaxed her from the line up and gestured her silently, his other hand raised, to the end of the line.

Stepping back he looked up and down and then moved toward another girl, curvier but of similar height. He moved her along to stand next to the young blonde girl.

In this way Dusan watched as he re-ordered the line in order of height and then retreated to admire his work, as if this line of sloping bowed heads were in some way a conclusion, a finished job. In the corner of the room, watching with arms crossed, leaning back against the wall, were two men in black t-shirts and grey jogging pants. They looked bored with proceedings but watched all the same.

Hari prowled the line again, closer this time, no more than a foot away from the girls all of whom tried to keep their eyes on him as he passed for fear of the rebuking finger-snap.

He stopped midway, reversed, pulled out a dark skinned girl. She was statuesque, long-legged and shapely. Hari turned to Dusan and smiled broadly, nodded at the girl who was doing an admirable job of maintaining her composure.

Moving her to the end of the line, Hari set about reordering his line in order of colour now, light to dark. Halfway through the task, Dusan’s drifting attention was grabbed as the sharp crack of a slap cut the silence, followed by a stifled cry. Hari’s hand hovered in the air behind the reddening buttock of Latino girl who froze and kept silent. Hari turned to him and pointed at her backside, firm and round in the G-string. Smiling at Dusan he turned back to the girl and slapped her hard again.

She maintained the silence this time, and Dusan wondered now if Hari had made his choice and this would begin to end.

Not yet. Hari snapped his fingers and the girl turned her head. There was a tear but the mouth was set firm. She looked at him, saw her own reflection in the dark lenses of his sunglasses. Again he raised his hand and smacked it hard and loud into her soft rump. She seemed to quaver a moment, and Dusan found himself wishing her still, hoping that she held out a little longer. Often Hari would leave the stronger ones alone. Test their resolve for a while until the others were all terrified and then he would round on the one who looked most afraid.

That’s how it worked either way; through fear.

Slowly the hand came up again and this time her expression did not flicker. Hari raised his arm further until he was pointing her into position in this human colour palette.

Turning to the line again Dusan saw the end arrive. The tears streaked down the pale cheeks of the short blonde girl that Hari had started with were like catnip to the Malaysian and he moved slowly toward her and each step broke a wall down inside her. By the time his hand was on her shoulder, the same spot as before, she had crumbled. Her shoulders dropped, her knees sagged and the cheap silk negligee she wore seemed suddenly too big for her slight frame as she shrank back inside it.

Dusan knew what would follow. Hari’s steps from here on out were practiced and rehearsed like a dance and one that none in the room would forget. That was of course the point.

These girls, all of them, were for sale. The would be trafficked and sold but first they would be cowed. When this was done, when the hour was up, they would all of them know precisely how trapped they were, the consequences of non-compliance.

Harimau stepped her forward with him and she followed meekly, sobs choking through her. When she was far enough out in front of them all he stopped her and pressed on her shoulder until she was kneeling. The girls at the wall all looked on, eyes widening in horror at the dawning realisation of what was about to happen but Hari snapped his fingers anyway, loud and sharp again, even as his other hand undid his trousers.

She took him in her mouth and tried to stop the sobs from rising from her chest and into her throat. Hari looked from her petrified face up to the line of girls and then back again, gripping her hair in a tight, twisting fist. She made a gagging sound that Dusan tried not to hear, always tried not to hear, but which would lodge in his mind like all the others. Like all the others, but different and unique.

Soon Hari raised his free hand and finger-snapped again, three times. This was a signal, not for the girls to keep watching, but to begin the final act. He was summoning forward the two quiet men from the corner of the room. They were giants next to Hari, dwarfing his short squat frame as they drew closer.

Dusan noticed that one of them was aroused already, the shape of him clear and unconcealed by the cotton of his jogging trousers.

Dusan stared hard at the floor as he saw Hari begin to tense. He was quite prepared to do any number of things for his boss, was well paid for doing so, but watching him climax, jaw clenched, head back, was not part of the job spec.

Sated, Harimau stepped back from the girl as she crumpled to the rough carpet and drew desperate breaths between hacking coughs. The respite lasted less than a minute.

The two large men circled her, hoisting their t-shirts over their heads to reveal their gym-toned torsos, black tattoos snaking their skin. Dropping their trousers they stood naked over her and then they began.

Her ordeal would take another fifty minutes and would follow a repeated pattern. Only when the screams peaked or she fell limp would they stop and release her. A short pause to let them all think it was all over, and then begin again.

If any of the other girls made a sound they would increase the violence and ferocity of the attack, if they looked away they would beat her harder and point at the girl in the line who had caused more punishment to be inflicted on their unfortunate fellow captive.

At the end Hari barked out words at the men in harsh, terse tones and she was dragged away, naked and broken.

‘She is no good to me. I cannot use her. If I cannot use…’ he said pointing after her. The door closed and Hari shrugged.

Dusan stood and began walking for the door. They were finished here and he would not see these girls again, not in the flesh.

He didn’t know why Hari made him do this. The other man knew from experience that Dusan would not participate in the rapes, but he made him stand there all the same, from start to finish. Perhaps he just wanted an extra body in the room in case something went wrong; crowd control. Or maybe he knew that every part of this would scare and scar these girls; not just the man in the glasses with his sinister games and his tormented selection process, nor the huge savages made of sinew and evil and pitiless fury. But the silent man who stood there the whole time and barely even seemed to notice what was happening.

What was his purpose? What function did he serve in this? Perhaps only Hari was supposed to know the answer to that, or perhaps the answer was simply that they all remember one simple truth; that Hari owned every one of them.

 

[]THIRTY SIX

 

‘Headache?’ she asked and dangled the box of painkillers over him.

‘No…’ he said, a hint of confusion his voice. ‘None. Brilliant.’

‘Daniel, that’s not right. You went through plenty of it last night. You should have a skull splitter.’

He stretched and looked up at Lisa with a grin. ‘Yes. Yes, I almost certainly should. Probably in the post for later.’

‘It should be.’

‘Perhaps it’s karma. I deserve a freebie.’

‘Malbec for breakfast then?’

‘Let’s not push it,’ he said and swung himself out of bed, noticing almost with surprise his nakedness.

‘Get yourself in the shower, I’ll make coffee.’

He gave a thumbs up that looked awkward and embarrassed as he stood there wondering whether to cover himself or beat a hasty retreat for the shower before his cheeks began to flush.

Lisa returned the gesture with a smile and a raised eyebrow. She leaned in and kissed him and then breezed out of the room.

Campbell dropped his thumbs and scanned the room for his underwear. Finding them in a tangle with his jeans he snatched them up and slipped them on. Lisa’s head appeared round the door.

‘Towel on the shelf behind the door. You don’t take sugar?’

He shook his head.

‘No. What we doing today then?’

He pondered the question for a moment but was relieved when she melted back into the hallway to the kitchen without waiting for an answer. Campbell didn’t have one. Anything he might try to do today was going to take some forethought but whatever it might be he felt that it would be done solo. How to rescind the invitation that she’d issued herself?

Campbell ran the shower hot and blasted away some of the morning-after fog. They’d talked a lot and late into the night, chasing ideas and suspicions around like a dog with two tails. Lisa had tried to help fill in blanks or to extinguish some of his more incendiary speculation but there was no denying now that he was into something here. A man who has wandered into a meadow and just spotted that it’s a minefield. Euphoria curdling into fear, tranquillity into tension.

He could not recall all of it now, not with all the wine he’d got through to dull the edge of his sharp sense of paranoia.

But certainly he remembered the way that the conversation had wound up quickly the moment Lisa had tried to stand, lost her balance, and plopped down on top of him, almost straight into his lap. He’d been too slow to catch her and she’d been too tipsy to try and break her fall. The pause between landing and their lips meeting had been minuscule and the rest was a blur of loosening buttons and crumpled sheets.

It hadn’t been awkward or clumsy or forced. It had just happened and then they were asleep, passed out until the sun rose and the dehydration kicked in.

Campbell couldn’t figure what to think about – Glasgow and Scorpio and what he thought he’d found, or the way that things had accelerated with Lisa. He still felt raw and battered from the beating he’d taken on their first date and the embarrassment of that humiliation still lingered, the way she’d tried so hard to say and do the right things, the way that there were no right things to do or say.

But the ease with which they had fallen together, the way smoothed by the wine and the tightening feeling of allegiance as they waded through all the things he had learned at Scorpio and the singular oddness of Lawson’s behaviour in Glasgow, that had felt right. Swift and natural like a blockage shifting from a pipe.

He felt the sting of the grazes he still carried and the ache of the bruises but they were less red and angry now, a little more faded and blurred.

Though he was a little groggy from the wine intake, his hangover was milder than it ought to have been and he felt a certain sharpness and clarity, a little spark of energy that he could tap into and exploit. He’d felt confused and under pressure, uncertain of himself and his instincts for some time now. The late nights, the new job, new demands, and then the mugging and the discovery in the office of the strange trail of companies all somehow intertwined. Perhaps it was waking up next to Lisa that had done it, or maybe being able to unload all of his worries and suspicions on someone else who could relate a little. But a tension had broken and Campbell felt like he could start to retake control and begin to discover what was going on.

At the breakfast table he sipped the hot fresh coffee and tore through mouthfuls of toast.

‘What’s the plan then? What’s Dan’s plan?’

‘Well,’ he chewed a little faster to empty his mouth. ‘Dan’s plan is that he’s… that I’m going to shoot off. And not refer to myself in the third person either. That’s the kind of thing Giles would do.’

‘Oh,’ she said and looked wounded.

‘I need to speak to someone about some of this stuff and I need to run a couple of errands. Maybe I can check back in with you later? You free later?’

‘Maybe you can check back in? Wow, you know how to make a lady feel special.’

‘Sorry. Just, you know. It’s all a bit nuts. You helped me work through things last night and I think it helped me realise maybe it’s not paranoia. But I need to… I just need to do a few things and speak to people and it’s easier if I just get cracking by myself, leg it around for a while and then take a breather and get back to you, and your wonderful insights and warm bed…’

If he thought the roguish suggestiveness of this approach might charm her, he didn’t cling long to the hope. She’d lost something of the sparkle in her eye that had been there earlier.

Of course, she’d been excited to talk things over with him the night before, to discover something curious and intriguing and possibly sinister might be going on in their workplace. It was exhilarating and a little scary and he’d just deflated her enthusiasm in short order. He’d need to do something more to make up lost ground here.

He chewed more toast and looked at her as she avoided looking at him. Then something hit him.

‘Tell you what. You could do something.’

‘What?’

‘Might be good to know what Giles was shredding last weekend.’

‘Yes. So?’

‘Think you could try to find out?’

‘What, you mean ask him? Hey Giles, Dan thinks he saw you secretly shredding a load of documents last Sunday afternoon. Don’t suppose you’d mind giving me a quick run down?’

‘No, no. You know his workload. Maybe you can go in to the office and check for something.’

‘I’m not following. Go through the shredder bins? Reassemble the strips of paper like the world’s most impossible puzzle?’

‘Not that, no. Stop being snippy. I mean you know the stuff he works on, see if you can root around his desk or file cupboard, see if there’s anything missing…’

‘Missing?’

‘Yeah. Look, it’s looking for a needle in a haystack I know.’

‘No, it’s looking for no needle in a haystack.’

‘But you might notice something that’s… conspicuous by its absence.’

‘Mmm,’ she said, finally sounding like she was coming around. ‘I guess that might work.’

‘See what’s there, you might notice what’s not.’

‘Still though. Hardly convincing evidence is it? Something possibly missing, presumed shredded.’

‘Yeah well, trust me. In my experience, important stuff goes missing, things can really kick off.’

 

[] THIRTY SEVEN

 

There are bigger, better run operations to deal with than this one. The Italians of course, the Russians. Hari prefers to keep it small scale though and deal with smaller outfits like this one.

They are easier to control, easier to dominate and negotiating is far simpler. When things go sideways you don’t have to worry about blowback from their friends in a half dozen other places.

These guys, mostly Albanian, seem to like Dusan too, which helps. Though by Hari’s limited grasp of Balkan geopolitics that seems odd. Shouldn’t they hate him?

There were things in the world that defied understanding and the effort required to do so was not warranted. Why look for logic where there was none? Just accept that they took every consignment that Hari sent them, paid well, handled themselves with discretion and were small enough that they were expendable and smart enough to know it.

Right now though, they were particularly expendable, for one very good reason, but they had no idea of it. One of their number, who called himself Ratko and was ostensibly the man in charge, had something that Hari needed.

Hari knew that their head man had something in common with him. They had both had dealings with the same man some years ago, for roughly similar reasons – guns – and later had both been left the poorer for an insider-trading scam gone wrong.

The guns had been an occasional piece of business. Hari liked to vary his suppliers and shop the market. He liked to get a good price and a decent product and where necessary the market narrowed down to who could get the things you wanted to the place you wanted them.

Having established that contact, Hari had exploited it where necessary; it wasn’t just guns that needed moving, sometimes drugs and people too, sometimes money. Precious stones from war zones, cash; either physical or electronic. He’d made other contacts through this man and Ratko had come into his orbit this way.

So Hari had known he wasn’t the only one who had been made a fool of by Michael Horner nor the only one who had lost money on the ‘tip’ that had been more like a trap. But he’d probably lost more than anyone on it. Perhaps it was because the project was in Malaysia that it caught his imagination the way it had, made him ignore advice to go easy. Perhaps it was the idea that the project stood to destroy much of the area that he’d grown up in that so appealed; that fetid, bug-ridden, rats nest of a place. Maybe he just lost the run of himself.

Either way, the deal wiped out a large portion of his hard-earned and carefully-laundered cash and left him looking like an idiot. Not being the only one had been some balm to the wounded pride, but Horner had marked himself that day.

Hari could not imagine that it had been deliberate. Horner was far too smart to make that many enemies by rigging the deal for himself at the expense of so many dangerous people. Hari had put a contract out on his own broker in the aftermath of the deal, just to have someone to strike out at.

The manner in which the Englishman dropped off the radar so fast looked like nothing but pure fear, the fox getting deep under ground when he hears the hounds coming.

So Hari knew that Horner was attempting to make amends and he knew that his peace offering would be extended to everyone that had a grievance.

Including Ratko.

Ratko may have exercised some discretion in their business dealings, but the man liked to talk when in trusted company and had wasted little time telling Dusan all about his plans. He was not, he said, interested in getting sucked into some elaborate new hoax to line Horner’s pockets a second time. Rather he would follow the scent and kill him. Maybe, he boasted, sell him on like one of the girls. He knew a few clients with particular tastes and extreme predilections. He’d like to make a slow, messy end of Horner. Perhaps Dusan and Hari would like to be there for the show?

‘You still like the product?’ he asks Ratko as they seat themselves around a small table, fresh coffee on a tray between them.

‘Always good. Fresh and frightened. How my buyers like,’ he grins back.

‘Good. It has been an excellent relationship. Good for each other.’

Ratko nods and pours coffee.

‘Good to make money together. But not always we make money. We have lost too.’

Ratko blinks but keeps filling cups. Hari presses on.

‘Remember?’

Now Ratko seems to get it, that Hari is not about to upbraid him for some failed deal. He is referring to something else. A shared failure.

He looks around the room and flicks his head toward the door. Everyone but Dusan leaves and then Ratko eyes Hari across the table and blows at the steam rising from the cup.

‘Dusan passed on my invitation? We make a show of him?’

Hari shrugs and lifts his cup. ‘Maybe. Something.’

‘We find him. Then…’ the sneer is full of contempt but black malice burns in Ratko’s eyes. The man has forgotten nothing of the sting he felt, has stoked the fire of his rage.

‘Then…’ Dusan says. ‘Then we show him how we are still angry.’

Ratko’s anger has simmered thus far, subdued out of respect for the power balance at the table. But suddenly he explodes.

‘He fuck me! In front of everyone, everybody see me fucked. Now, he will be fucked. Everyone will know, everyone. Hard, long. Like a pig, like a little bitch. I sell him and watch him die.’

Hari puts the coffee down and leans back in his chair. Dusan circles the table and places a hand on Ratko’s shoulder as the eruption subsides.

‘Like that?’ Dusan says and Hari nods slowly.

‘Something like that,’ he says. ‘You want to go see him Ratko?’

 

[] THIRTY EIGHT

 

Giles Lawson has his orders. The time has come.

He does not understand exactly but he can see his part in this and how to do it because the instructions are clear and leave little room for interpretation or doubt. The pay helps to focus his mind too, not the per diem he’s been getting through Scorpio but the bonus he’s expecting.

That bonus makes all the difference, and though it is not right to say that it solves all his problems it certainly deals with most of them. Giles Lawson is an addict and drugs cost a lot of money. Gambling more.

There are years behind him laid waste with recklessness and dreadful decision making, a spoilt young man starting out rebelling by wasting his father’s money and then finding himself cut off and in a spiral.

Amazing the fortitude that fear will give you and amazing the kind of fear that’s waiting out there in the world for those who fail to heed the warnings.

Lawson should have been the high-flying success that the school fees were paying for but even the best schools can do only so much and when someone is determined enough to send a message that money isn’t love, there are no refunds and no returns. Lawson’s father stuck at it with all the tenacity that had made him a professional success but he’d failed to understand that the hard work and the long hours that paid for giving his son the very best of everything was at the expense of what young Giles really wanted from his father. It is hard to understand that being sent away is supposed to be an expression of parental love or that the separation was just as hard the other way.

By the time he saw it, his father was saying goodbye and his mother was in the ground.

Barred from another casino, after another coke binge, he’d been collected from a police station, divested of his house keys and his credit cards and handed the truth, silent and deafening.

His father had not spoken as he’d done this, but the look in his eyes as he stared at him and then left was one that Giles recognised. The losing-streak gambler at the table chasing one bad bet with a bigger one and refusing to see it until it could be refused no longer. You have lost too much; walk away.

He’d had the intelligence to see it all clearly then, the trail of destruction he’d blazed through life, so angry at an imagined crime, taking his revenge upon the innocent, scorching the earth as he went. He lacked the capacity to stop though. Had he done so there and then, he’d have been clean and clear. The money he’d burnt had been earned and handed to him by an indulgent parent but when that indulgence ceased, Lawson’s own had not.

So then there were debts and drugs and days lost to all of it, chunks of the calendar dropping away before he surfaced somewhere broke and broken once more.

The traditional avenues ran dry inside two years and then nobody would give him a loan or a credit card. But being stupid and resourceful is a sure way to destruction and Lawson found it in ever more extreme loan sharks. Passingly reputable at first but quickly he was using dangerous men to front him the cash he couldn’t exist without.

And then rock bottom. Vegas, a suite, the high stakes tables, hookers, champagne and fistfuls of coke. In three bacchanalian nights he had doubled his already massive debts.

There was a week in the vice-tight grip of a hangover that visited every physical and mental torment upon him. He’d resolved at very long last to kick it all and get clean.

Not with his parents help, nor friends, so few of which he really had anymore. Himself. Alone. The same way he’d got here.

‘Dad,’ he had sobbed the word out as he stood there on the front step the last time he’d seen him.

There was no reply and when he looked up at his father he could see the dagger sitting there in the old man’s heart, just where he’d left it.

‘School tie. I, uh, I need my old school tie.’

The man had nodded and closed the door. In a few minutes he returned and handed over the old thing, rolled carefully and pristine. In his other hand he held a blue suit.

’About the same size now. Should fit.’

Lawson felt stung by the kindness, sharp like a slap.

He nodded dumbly.

’Middle age spread at 28 Giles. Not got better has it.’ It was not a question. Or if it was, the question was ’how have I failed you?’

He’d taken the suit and the tie and stared so intently at his shoes as he chewed on his shame that the sound of the closing door was inaudible.

Somehow though, he could hear it now. Clear and defined, like a snap or a crack. The end of something. The sound, he fancied, of a full stop.

Here though, now, were the final plays in the endgame. A few more steps, a few more weeks perhaps and he’d have his escape. But all the while the debts ran overdue and the interest piled up as he tested the patience of men with little of it. Men who would have their price.

He’d played his role well at Scorpio, done the things he’d been asked to, hooked in their man and landed him. He did wonder about Campbell. Certainly the man was intelligent and tenacious, had begun to dig out some interesting stock ideas, though they were never really pursued with any kind of conviction.

What he did know was that he was where he was supposed to be and that he would play his part too. Indeed, he was becoming more central to everything judging by the latest set of instructions he’d received and so the success upon which his bonus depended, depended on Campbell.

Lawson could feel the familiar buzz of a high stakes game unfolding and his gut twisted and tightened, knowing there was nothing to do but keep playing.

 

[] THIRTY NINE

 

Campbell chews at his nails and watches the window. Steve is running late, but then it’s a wet Sunday and he’s asked to meet at short notice. Nonetheless, the waiting is turning a screw in his guts.

When he gets there he looks concerned and pissed off simultaneously. Whether that is because he’s heading out into a wet London on Sunday morning instead of slumping on the sofa in front of the television or because he has a sense that Campbell may be about to unload some more work related drama on him is unclear at first sight.

Campbell will have to hope it’s not the latter but attempts to make up for it anyway.

’Sausage or bacon?’ he says as he stands and offers a hand.

Steve shakes it and half smiles. ’Not or. And.’

’Sausage and bacon. Done. Red or brown?’

’Brown of course. Savage.’

Campbell orders the sandwiches and coffee and returns to their table. It’s a pub that overlooks a fenced and tree-lined Green, though not in the English-village, cricket-or-bowls-sense, but more the park-benches-and-tramps-sense. This is South London.

The decor is much dark wood and large elaborate mirrors, little in the way of modernising since the pub opened in the 1890s but for the shabby-chic furniture and the chalk board with the gastropub menu.

’Good choice, they do good pig in here.’

Campbell nods and chews his lip.

’So how’s things? Still messy? I half expected to see you having a pint with your breakfast after our last conversation.’

’Yeah, well it’s not the hectic social life that’s the issue really. I mean, only for the last week or so, but that’s only because I’ve had other things going on.’

’The girl. Tell me it’s the girl.’

’Lisa? No. I mean, yes, sort of. We sort of got together.’

’Sort of congratulations!’

Campbell smiles, ploughs on.

’Turn on your bluetooth,’ he says and pulls his own smartphone from his pocket.

’Why?

’I need to send you something.’

’Hang on. If you’re going to share some naked selfies or something, I have to tell you now, I’m not into that.’

’Turn it on.’

Steve busies himself with the phone and then nods at Campbell.

’OK. Before I send this, I should say, it could be something… I don’t know, could be bad.’

’Naked selfies, I knew it.’

’I don’t really know what it is. And I know that I could be seeing ghosts in the shadows here, after what happened before. I know it sounds paranoid.’

Steve draws a deep breath and lets it out. ’You seem hell bent on finding something in the shadows Dan. Let’s hear it.’

’The new place, the dream job. I think I found something screwy.’

’Screwy how?’

Campbell shrugs. ’Just… Suspect. Like too suspect to keep ignoring.’

’Yeah, but suspect how? You are new to this job Dan, it may be that the things you’re seeing are just the way things work,’ Steve says but Campbell is shaking his head before the sentence is finished.

’But we both know enough about how things work to spot when something’s off.’

’OK. So what are you seeing? Money Laundering?’

Campbell shrugs.

’Insider trading?’

Shrugs again.

’A Ponzi scheme? Tax evasion?’ Steve continues and Campbell’s head drops into his hands and starts shaking. ’Libor rate manipulation? Boiler room scam? Payment Protection Insurance misselling? Inadequate risk controls? I’m running out here Dan.’

He looks up again and is about to start talking when the food arrives. They dig in silently, the tension between them refusing to abate.

’Truth is, I can’t say precisely; just that something doesn’t add up. And maybe a few off your list are in there. Maybe the money laundering, or the insider trading, or the Ponzi scheme. Price fixing even.’

’Do you have enough to call the regulator?’ Steve asks after working through a huge mouthful of sandwich.

’Not sure I’d want to do that.’

’Blow the whistle if you think there’s something going on. Shit or get off the pot.’

’It’s not quite that simple.’

’Right. I’m going to demolish this majestically constructed sandwich and you are going to explain to me what’s got you spooked. If I’m spooked too by the end of this thing, we’ll take a look at whatever you’re trying to get me to look at.’

Campbell nodded and gathered his thoughts. ’Last few weeks I’ve been doing a lot of stock analysis, looking at companies and whether we should be buying or shorting them. But I can’t figure them out, what they do. Lots of holding companies and subcontracts and a huge amount of crossover, like the same company names cropping up on each other’s documents. But very light on detail about what they do, you know? We make this product and sell it to these guys. We provide this service to that company for this amount. None of that. Nothing clear. Normally a red flag right?’

Steve chews and bobs his head.

’Then there’s the corporate structure. You met my boss, but he’s pretty young and he’s got someone above him. Company like this, there’s a chunk of capital somewhere but I can’t figure out who that might be from. Nobody ever mentions that part of it.’

As Steve works his way through the food and listens, the sceptical frown he wears softens and changes as Campbell goes on to describe the strange goings on in the wine bar bathrooms.

’Right,’ he says as he snatches up a napkin and wipes his mouth free of grease and sauce. ’That certainly is a lot of strangeness. Inconclusive I’d say, but curious all the same.’

’If you look at this lot you’ll start to see what I’m seeing,’ says Campbell and waves his phone in the air.

’What is it then?’

’Notes mostly. A load of stuff I’ve been taking down to join all the dots.’

Steve looks thoughtful a moment and then nods and taps the screen. ’Go on then. I’ll take a look.’

Campbell jabs at the phone screen and then looks up. ’Steve. I want to be wrong. I know I just spent a long time convincing you that I’m not, or that I think I’m right, but I don’t want to be.’

’How do you keep finding trouble?’

’Keeps finding me,’ he shrugs. ’Or not. Maybe these guys are just a half-arsed outfit and cut lots of corners. Maybe I just signed up to them wanting it to be a dream job. You can convince yourself of anything if you want to I guess.’

’I’ll take a look.’

’Thanks Steve. I’m in your hands on this.’

 

 

 

[]FORTY

 

When Hogg enters the room with Rookes hovering on his shoulder Horner feels a little leap of tension in his stomach that has been getting worse each time.

Listening for the name and not hearing it as Hogg updates him has been like water torture, the slow drip – drip – drip of building anxiety.

He considers cutting to the chase and asking him outright about Stripes but refrains; there is no benefit in having either man see a hint of weakness.

In the event Hogg spares him further waiting and fixes him with a level stare and shakes his head. Not yet, it says, no reply.

Rookes’ eyes swivel between the two but his view of the exchange is obscured. Horner opens his mouth to tell him to leave them but then realises that having Rookes think there is something to hide is the best way to tell him there is.

‘Come in and sit,’ he says, mustering a tone of impatience and disdain that requires little effort.

They do and Hogg looks like he is trying less to keep his eyes fixed on Horner than simply off Rookes. There’s a festering tension between them that Horner likes, because it means that they are unlikely to talk much and he needs his people divided and conquered.

‘Anything new?’

‘One more on board, Hind and Stripes still blanks,’ says Hogg. Then adds, ‘ Response-wise.’

‘Response-wise?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why say that? Is there something else? Spit it out Hogg,’ Horner snaps.

‘First time for everything,’ smirks Rookes and winks at Horner. Hogg drops his eyes to the carpet for a second, grinds his teeth.

‘Well I had something odd. Like someone tried to trace the data package without actually opening it.’

‘What does that mean? Should I care?’

Hogg shrugs. ‘Just, not happened before is all. And you asked for anything new. So…’

‘I did. Fine. Rookes?’

‘No idea. Big guy does the computers.’

The pause and the expression are withering and even Rookes cannot ignore it. ‘Hogg has finished. I am asking you to update me. If I need you to have an opinion, one will be provided for you.’

‘I doubled the detail on the house but stepped down the walkabouts. Too visible. Cameras have been upgraded too which covers the lack of boots on the ground. I let someone go too. Last of Marcus’s guys.’

‘Why?’

‘Didn’t know him well enough. What I knew I didn’t like.’

‘Fair enough. Is this costing a lot?’

‘Not really. You want these guys to keep quiet you either pay them, or scare them.’

‘And which sledgehammer of subtlety did you opt for?’

Rookes grins. ‘Little from column A, little from column B.’

‘Is that it then? We’re tighter now? Tight enough?’

‘Can never be tight enough in my opinion, but we’re a sight better than when the last guy was running the show.’

‘No,’ says a voice from behind them. ‘The answer that Mr Horner should have been getting from you was a very definite no.’

The sight of the three men in the doorway drains the colour from Horner’s face so fast that Hogg fears the man will pass out right there. Rookes spins and stands but Dusan has a handgun at his hip that he barely even moves. He shakes his head and Rookes stops.

Behind Dusan comes Ratko, with swagger and menace and a smug look that even Rookes would struggle to match.

And then Hari strolls in, nonchalant and smiling.

Hogg feels his fingernails begin to tear as he grips at the chair and he forces himself to ease off. He cannot identify precisely the source of his terror; whether it is the self-possessed, fearlessness of Dusan in his dark blue suit and white shirt, like a man just come from a meeting and ready for a cocktail. Whether it is the swaggering Ratko, all full of malicious intent and far too pleased to be here. Or Hari who seems to care too little. Perhaps it is the way Horner has visibly shrivelled into himself, all semblance of the overbearing arrogance evaporated.

‘You look a little pale Michael. You should get out more. The sun doesn’t stop shining here I’ve heard,’ says Hari.

‘Not expecting guests,’ stammers Horner, frantically trying to collect himself.

‘No?’ Hari frowns at Ratko, at Dusan in turn. ‘But you sent us an invitation.’

‘An RSVP would have sufficed.’

‘Ha!’ Hari laughs with a clap. ‘Good.’

‘You know what I think of your invitation?’ Ratko says as he takes a step closer. Rookes doesn’t move. He’s in Ratko’s way but seems unsure about whether to tackle him if he keeps coming.

‘I think he knows,’ says Dusan and there is a sharp crack that makes everyone jump.

Ratko stumbles and looks confused and then just as Rookes and Hogg spot it, Ratko is clasping the wound with his hand, watching the dark blood seep between his fingers. He turns slowly, his hand to his chest and Dusan raises the handgun and presses it to Ratko’s throat. Ratko’s frown deepens and he moves his other hand up to the wound.

‘This man,’ Hari begins and points at Ratko. ‘Is dangerous.’

Horner’s mouth hangs open and any sense that he may have been going to have a say in what was about to happen is gone.

‘He wants you dead. He wants to kill you himself. Have you humiliated, tortured, raped even. The things he told me he was going to do…’ he shakes his head.

Ratko makes a sound, like he’s attempting to say something, to protest, but all that comes from his mouth is some blood and spittle, a sound like a blocked drain. Dusan eyes his pristine white shirt with concern.

‘He does not care about the money.’

Crack!

There is a fine red spray from the back of Ratko’s neck as Dusan pulls the trigger and Horner squints as it settles over him.

The Albanian slumps down to the floor and grabs at his throat, a wet ragged hole there, pumping red. Horner’s eyes widen and Hogg swallows back a dry heave.

Hari stares down at the Albanian as he tries to stem the flow and he seems not to know that the battle is unwinnable, lost already. There is silence amongst those watching, but it is punctuated by Ratko’s desperate cough and rattle as he clings on and clings on.

‘Takes a long time,’ observes Dusan. ‘Surprising.’ He is looking at Horner when he says this, like it’s a question. Horner nods and watches on.

‘This man, would deny me my compensation,’ says Hari. ‘I have waited a long time, wondering how I would be compensated. He simply sought revenge.’

Ratko’s breathing is ragged and slow and the blood has spread in a wide dark patch around him on the carpet.

‘I would like to be compensated first. Loss of capital, emotional distress,’ he begins counting fingers. ‘Reputational damage.’

‘Lost business,’ prompts Dusan, gesturing at Ratko on the ground.

‘Lost business, of course. I can hardly continue to deal with Ratko any longer. I will need to find a new outlet for that part of the enterprise.’

‘Not easy, very specialist.’

‘That’s right. And talking of specialist, what about the architect of this plan of yours? Who’s making this happen? I want to know how it works.’

Hogg felt his knees weaken and his bowels start to shift as Rookes turned to look at him. Hari stayed focused on Horner.

‘He’s not here yet. Soon. I can get him here,’ Horner says and he too does not look in Hogg’s direction.

‘See that you do. I want to meet him.’

Horner nods, tries not to look down as Ratko chokes out a last breath.

‘It’s complex of course, rather technical, rather arcane. But he’ll pull it together for us. He’s the keystone really. I’d be delighted for you to meet him.’

‘He sounds good. Where do you find someone like that?’

Horner shrugs. ‘He sort of volunteered.’

 

[]FORTY ONE

 

The tepid drizzle of Sunday worsens into a cold squally downpour by Monday morning and Campbell has not come equipped. After Steve, he makes his way home and then back to Lisa’s with clothes for the morning, a shirt, a suit, a tie. No raincoat. No umbrella.

Lisa makes him share hers but it is small and polka dotted and the height difference means that he must either duck awkwardly or hold it so high she is barely protected. It makes for an awkward journey once the initial novelty has worn off a hundred yards from her front door.

He arrives in the office with his trousers cold and clinging, his sodden suit jacket with the distinct look of a garment that is not supposed to be gotten wet having passed the point of no return. Dry cleaning may not fix this, he thinks and heads to his desk.

The plan to be early has suffered from the slowdown that the weather brings, pavements clogged with umbrellas taking up space and people ducking their heads out of the freezing wind and not looking where they are going.

Campbell is cranky and distracted. He knows that Steve will be at his desk by now across town and that he may even have started looking into Campbell’s notes and his hit list of company names, but it isn’t likely that it’s going to trump his real duties so fast, or that any results are yet likely. He will have to wait for as long as it takes and knows that the squirming impatience that tugs and prods at him will hang around that whole time.

What he needs is a distraction, so he sets about getting comfortable and dry and busying himself with some ’real’ work, which largely entails trawling through the company database for any more clues as to what he thinks he has found. It emerges slowly out of a deep, thick fog, the smallest of clues, the vaguest references to something that sits in the middle of it all, like a hub, or a spider in the centre of a web.

Foundation Partners Investment Capital is another name with nothing to recommend it to Campbell’s keen sense of paranoia, nondescript and impersonal as it is. He sees it first in reference to Barracuda Trading, in what appeared to be a complex loan that advanced capital in exchange for stock options. On digging around he figured out what he thought the deal looked like; an advancement of a loan that carried the option for the debt to be converted into shares in Barracuda. In other words, if you don’t pay us back, we’ll own part of you.

Then he saw a similar deal structured for the set up of Icarus Financial where the convertibility option for the bank to turn the loan to Icarus into shares in Icarus was a standout feature. The loan came not from Foundation Partners but from Keystone Capital which turned out to be a subsidiary of Foundation.

Campbell started tugging at the thread and slowly it unravelled. Bodden Ventures he found links to next, with both Foundation and Keystone and Hunter Technologies also received seed capital from Foundation.

The more he looked the more he found and the more self-conscious he became, his head snapping up like a meerkat every few minutes or so to survey the open space of the office and his colleagues milling about with their Monday morning faces on.

’Need a drink?’ said Lisa as she appeared at his side. Campbell jumped in his seat and rested a hand on her forearm in relief when he saw who it was.

’Jesus. Nervous much Dan?’

’Sorry, you scared the crap out of me.’

’Why so jumpy?’ she asked and he fixed her with a serious look and shook his head.

’Let’s get that drink,’ he said and stood, grabbing his mug from the coaster by the phone just as it began to ring.

’Or not…’ He picked up. ’Dan here.’

Lisa watched as his brow furrowed and then his eyebrows seemed to make a break for his hairline, jumping right up his forehead.

He said nothing as he hung up and then headed to the kitchen with his empty mug, Lisa in tow, her own brow furrowed in confusion.

’What is it? Was that Giles?’

Campbell nodded and looked at her. ’The Cayman trip. Brought forward.’

They stare at each other for a long time, before Campbell finally turns and makes the drinks they came for. The silence is filled for a very long time with all the questions that neither one gives voice to.

 

[]FORTY TWO

 

Rattled by the news about the trip to Cayman, Campbell fidgets in his chair for an hour and stares at the screen, busy getting nothing done. The tea goes cold and the screen goes dark from inactivity.

Finally he stands and makes for Lawson’s office, not sure what he’ll say but sure he should say something. He doesn’t feel good at all about this. Considering it’s a trip to the Caribbean on the company credit card makes it particularly unsettling to feel so reticent. He should be excited, but that’s not what he feels.

‘What’s up?’ says Lawson as he walks in.

‘Got a minute?’

‘Yeah, sure.’

‘Cayman Islands.’

‘Cayman man. Grand bloody Cayman!’ Lawson says and hangs a hand up high to be fived.

Campbell does not oblige but goes instead for the deep frown. ‘I don’t get it. I mean, I don’t really know what my role is here.’

Lawson shakes his head a little and offers a shrug, not quite following whatever point Campbell is failing to articulate.

‘Why? Why me? Why not some else, someone who knows this stuff better?’

‘Tough gig right? Jesus Dan, you can’t actually be upset about this?’

‘Sure, no. Just, I can’t see that the expense is justified if I’m not the guy that does the deals.’

‘Who else do you think there is? How big do you think we are exactly? You know everything and everyone already.’

He nods dumbly, somehow further now from reassurance than he was.

‘So what do I need to bring?’

’No suits, just sort of smart casual. And your swimmers.’

‘What about work stuff? Research?’

Lawson looks like his patience has worn through now at all the questions. ‘Just, you know, anything with Cayman on it. All the stuff you’ve been looking at that’s run through there, we’re looking at all of it.’

As he wanders back to his desk, he ponders whether any of the companies that they have had him look at have not had references to Cayman on them.

‘You know what I said about Grand Cayman?’ Lisa says as she bounces over to him from the other side of the office.

Remind me?’

‘That you must take me.’

‘That, yes. Not sure I-’

‘Well,’ she cuts him off. ‘My fairy Godmother must have been listening.’

A long pause as she stands grinning at him. ‘You’re coming?’ he asks.

‘Giles thinks you’ll need help with everything. Staying organised.’

‘A beautiful assistant?’

‘Dashing sidekick. I prefer dashing sidekick.’

‘We’ll see.’

‘Bonus points for the beautiful part though.’

‘Of course.’

‘Dashing sidekick.’

‘First task for the dashing sidekick will be to sit by Giles on the plane. You can be my posh-boy barrier.’

’That’s going to take Gin. I hope we’re going Business Class.’

He nods but cannot continue to feign enthusiasm or reflect her excitement back at her. He grabs his damp jacket and heads for the door. ‘Heading for lunch,’ he says.

‘It’s 11.30.’

He nods but says nothing. By the time he gets to the bank of lifts he has typed half the text message and when the doors slip open in the lobby he hits send.

It’s a nice neighbourhood to take a walk in and he does just that, following a long looping route through the streets as he waits for a response. The buildings are old and no more than a few stories high, tasteful Georgian or Victorian architecture built in stone or London brick. They have off street parking and window boxes, ivy and wisteria trailing around the sash windows. It is hard to know which are the workplaces of rich people or the homes of rich people, but all the same it is tranquil and otherworldly and far removed from the place he feels he is getting lost in.

He tries to think clearly and force himself again to review his thoughts rationally. He’s been in the job only a couple of months now, it has been a whirlwind of activity, frantically social, a steep professional learning curve and he has stepped some distance outside his comfort zone. This was his intention. The last job felt like a dead-end, repetitive and too easy. He wanted to find, he reminds himself, all of these things he has found. He is stretched, he is tired, he is finding new limits.

But is it too much? Is this normal, this life of late nights and expense-paid trips? Of murky and opaque business deals.

He finds himself again back in that lock-up, his wrists tied, and in that dingy little terraced house with the naked light bulbs and gunshots popping down the hallway. Trouble found him before, almost killed him. Why must he insist on seeking it out now, seeing so many threats lurking in the periphery?

Now Lisa is involved too, booked on the plane with him and Giles for whatever lies ahead. It was one thing to tell her of his suspicions, his tongue wine-loosened as it was. But he would rather she remain a spectator, back behind the safety barrier that he has failed to erect.

The ding of the phone was lost in the London noise, even here in these back streets away from the traffic. “Been in a meeting all morning Dan. What’s the panic?”

He types a reply to Steve so fast that he has to start again to correct all the typos and the illogical autocorrects.

“Leaving the country tomorrow. Grand Cayman.”

The wait is its own special torture but the phone dings again. “Poor you. I suppose that’s awful too! ;-) OK, will try to have a butcher’s at things after lunch.”

He feels relieved that Steve has not forgotten him but knows too that he has reached his suspicions after several weeks of work. What can he realistically expect Steve to uncover in the space of an afternoon? Particularly considering that he’ll have his own work to be getting on with.

Anything with Cayman on it, Lawson had said. That tone of exasperation. Stop asking questions.

 

[] FORTY THREE

 

Campbell gets to work gathering what Lawson has so vaguely specified is required and soon realises quite how much there is and that anything in paper form is too bulky and impractical to take anywhere far, let alone on an international flight.

He spends more time than he allowed for digitising the data, or pulling what is already stored digitally off the main database and putting it into a cloud file. There’s not so much that it won’t fit on a memory stick, but he’s not confident that is something he should be doing. In the cloud file it’s locked up, encrypted and password protected. A memory stick, as he knows all too well, can go missing.

There is little time to respond to Lisa’s emails, which drop into his inbox sporadically and range from the excited – a clipped image of a skimpy swimsuit she asks if she should buy – to the uncertain and nervous. Campbell cannot afford the time to indulge either emotion, nor would he if he could; he wouldn’t want to encourage her excitement when he felt so pensive about it himself, nor would he wish to worry her any further than she may already be. She was right to worry of course, knowing what she knew, but who the hell doesn’t get excited about a trip to the Caribbean? Especially with this persistent wet weather, grey clouds sitting on the roofs of the city.

He sees all those names again popping up in record after record as he trawls the data and they begin to crowd out everything else until he can almost see nothing else, like they are all in bold and large font and all the rest greyed out and shrinking into the screen.

When Lisa breaks the trance he notices that she has her coat on, then that the office is near-empty.

‘Coming yet?’ she asks.

’No,’ he shakes his head. ‘Still got to get this together, Giles was a little… vague.’

‘OK. We’re meeting here in the morning for a car at 7am. So be here before that.’

‘Sure. Seven,’ he replies absently, eyes drifting back to the screen.

‘Unless you want to come to mine and we can get an early start together. Early night too.’

‘Uh, yeah. No, I mean. I’ll probably be here a while. Then home to pack.’

‘After packing?’

He misses the wounded tone in her voice, the hopeful lilt to the question. Misses the look on her face too because he is looking at the screen again.

‘I guess… I’ll call you. Let you know what time,’ but only late in the sentence does he actually look her in the eye.

She drifts out of his peripheral vision and he goes back to the screen and begins to pick at another thread. Another nondescript corporate name on repeat but it’s not the fact he has seen it again so much as where.

The data field that tells him who owns a firm does not contain the name of a person but a trustee corporation. Which is to say that the company is owned by a trust rather than an individual or group of named individuals.

This is not so unusual, especially considering that the company in question – all of them on his list tonight – are Cayman Island registered. A trust is a common format for company ownership, but Campbell notes with a sense of creeping certainty that he has seen nothing but the names of trustee corporations in all of these firms.

He tries to clear his head for a moment, to focus. What does that mean?

A trust is a legal entity that can own property – like company shares – on behalf of pretty much anyone. These are the beneficiaries and the trust is run by appointed trustees who are responsible for everything – how it is run, how it is paid out and to whom. They can operate on the simplest basis – for charities for example, where it is an expedient way to protect the underlying funds for their intended purpose, or for grandparents holding money for the grandchildren too young or too irresponsible to have it for themselves just yet.

At the more complex end, where the beneficiaries and purposes were various and larger in scope, it often made more sense to use professionals for the job at hand – trustee corporations.

They were appointed to act in a purely professional capacity for the trust with a clear set of instructions. It also meant that a degree of anonymity might be achieved, as it was here.

So far, so normal. But the more he checked, the more he saw that all of their target companies were owned this way, rather than a few entrepreneurs or the handful of founding partners of a startup. And not just by trustee corporations. One trustee corporation.

He’d been so tied up seeing all the criss-crossing names popping up so frequently, been so concerned about whether Scorpio should be attempting to own these companies he had not paid enough attention to who actually did.

He snatched at his phone as he felt it buzz against his hip and suddenly remembered that he was waiting on Steve.

It was Lisa. A text message.

‘Make sure you get yourself home and then here. I don’t want a call at midnight saying you are still in the office. X’

Not Steve. He dropped the handset on the desk and then remembered that she would want a response. ‘Leaving soon’ he tapped out and sent and then typed one out for Steve too, asking him for any feedback he might have. He’d had the whole day with Campbell’s notes and would surely be done and heading home himself by now.

Campbell drew a deep breath and made a decision. Ten more minutes looking up this trustee corporation and then get out. If he hadn’t found a smoking gun yet, he wasn’t going to. And what would he do if he did? Confront Lawson in the morning? See what panned out in Cayman and blow the whistle later when he was sure?

He found the website for the trustee corporation after a few abortive attempts. The name was innocuous enough – Professional Trustee Services International – and meant that he hit a few that looked the same but were obviously not right. The one that fit had a Grand Cayman address – none of the others did – and a brief description of exactly the type of service that Campbell expected to see. When he tried the About Us page, in hope of seeing some actual names and faces, he was met with an error message. The page he was ‘temporarily unavailable due to routine maintenance’. He tried other parts of the website and got the same result. Just the homepage live. The rest of the site offline.

Campbell accepted defeat and started closing down his workstation and headed for the exit, checking his wallet and phone were safely in his pocket. In the lift he checked the phone for a response from Steve but instead saw that his text message had failed. There was only one bar of signal on the phone screen but no matter how many times he hit retry, one bar was apparently not enough.

It was not enough when he got off the tube, nor when he paused mid-packing or tried repeatedly in the cab ride to Lisa’s place. Poor atmospheric conditions he assumed, which was not what he encountered at Lisa’s when he arrived a little after ten. She was still picking outfits for the suitcase and then decided to model the skimpy swimsuit that she’d taken a detour on her way home to pick up, which met with the type of reaction that Campbell presumed was the right one since it did not stay on her for very long.

 

*

 

After making love, showering and then making love again, they finally caught some fitful sleep before sleeping through the alarm and dashing out the door tired and harassed.

It wasn’t until they were in the Departure lounge that Campbell finally got a message from Steve. It was brief and told him that he couldn’t fit a proper response in a text so had emailed it instead.

Lawson was on edge and chattering and had spent ten minutes sitting at the table in the coffee bar with them whilst eyeing the wine bar across the vast space with a look of clear longing. Then he’d made an ‘executive fucking decision’ to get some proper drinks because that is what you must do on a plane. The actual time of day ceases to exist this side of the barrier, he insisted, and once you’d shown them your passport you were on holiday, even if you were actually at work.

Campbell had no energy to protest and Lisa was swayed with the suggestion of a vodka and Red Bull to do the job that no amount of coffee was going to.

In the bar Lawson got the drinks and though it was barely past eight in the morning, Campbell’s ragged feeling of exhaustion seemed to dull at the first swallow of the cold beer and after the third he figured that he’d feel a little better for a drink or two now, and soon enough the sleep would hit him all the harder. God only knew he didn’t want to be awake for the whole flight if Lawson was going to be this twitchy. He’d not seen him hit the toilets yet and come back looking coked up, so he could only assume that this was some other sort of natural nervous energy brought on by the trip.

After two beers Campbell reached for his phone to check email before changing his mind. What if Lawson asked what he was looking at? What if what Steve had sent him was scary enough to make the fear obvious, then what would he tell Lawson? No, he’d wait until the other man went to empty his no-doubt full bladder. But the other man held on so Campbell yielded first and once he had found a cubicle and locked himself in, he opened the email app and noted again that there was no signal, not here in this bathroom, encased in ceramic tiles from floor to ceiling.

Back at the table Lawson was hurrying Lisa into finishing her drink and pointing at the departures screen.

‘Flight’s up,’ he said. ‘Time to get on board Dan.’

He swore to himself and followed them to the gate, all the while Lawson chattering that little louder for the lager he’d drunk three pints of.

When they found their seats there was respite.

‘I’ll leave you two to it,’ Lawson had told them with a knowing look and slipped into a seat across the aisle.

Campbell opened his email with as much haste as he dared and all the nonchalance he could muster, which was very little.

 

Dan,

Looked over your notes and had a dig around myself for stuff on all your Cayman companies – how do I say this? I don’t think you want to get on that plane mate.

 

He didn’t read the rest until they were in the air, paralysed as he was in his seat. You don’t get back off a large passenger plane you’ve just boarded unless you want to meet some policemen and anti-terror officers, not in this day and age. Not without a very good reason. So he sat there staring out the tiny window, feeling like a cartoon character who had just stepped out into empty space, just before the drop.

 

[]FORTY FOUR

 

When you go up in an aeroplane, you are ultimately left with two possibilities; you land or you crash. Daniel Campbell was starting to see the distinction blur.

Steve’s email had been relatively brief on detail and data but clear enough in tone. A fresh pair of eyes, objective, almost sceptical, had assessed the information and found the same conclusion as Campbell had. There was something very wrong going on and now he was heading right into the heart of it. He’d been cautioned against going by his friend, but the caution had arrived too late. Now he was set on a course that he could not easily escape from and would simply have to let play out.

The pre-flight alcohol had been burned off by the shock and no amount of forcing his eyes closed would bring on sleep. He was wired and edgy and stuck in this steel tube for another ten hours. The only mercy was that Lawson had flamed out early with all his hyperactivity and edgy excitement and was asleep before the plane had cleared UK airspace.

Lisa had complained of the energy drink repeating on her and headed for the Ladies and Campbell had taken the chance to read Steve’s email again.

 

Looks as though you were on the right lines about this stuff. They are all interlinked and it’s all a bit incestuous. They all seem to own bits of each other’s bonds or shares, and have very little in the way of tangible or traceable trading or clear activity records. They’ve all filed accounts but they’re sparse to say the least and they don’t show up in any press that I can find. At all. They’re all registered or listed where they are supposed to be but without knowing where to look and what for, you’d never find them. Like they’re meant to be invisible. I don’t think Ponzi is the right description, but they certainly feel like bricks in a pyramid. And I don’t really like the idea of who might be behind something like that, or where they’re hiding. Walk away mate, and make an anonymous call to the relevant authorities when you’re clear.

 

It wasn’t so much that his friend had seen the same thing as he had and that it had spooked him too, it was that neither of them could figure out what it was.

Campbell had spent some time after the incident seeking out thrills and excitement, shunning the predictable and the safe, somehow looking to rediscover that addictive feeling of being entirely in the hands of fate. Never more alive than when courting death. He had travelled the world in search of it, leaving the beaten path whenever he could, trying everything once, twice, even the things he didn’t like. Especially those things. Relishing the psychological and physiological reactions it induced in him whatever they were.

He had struggled and fought so hard to get his boring life back that when he got it, he didn’t want it anymore. That’s what the travelling and the caving and boxing were about, and that’s what had led him to chase down this new job at Scorpio with its work-hard, play-hard culture and the new and unfamiliar professional territory he would have to tread. No coasting here; fail to produce and you were done, that’s what he’d first thought. You had to survive and you had to be good and ballsy and take risks just to achieve that.

Except it was beginning to distort and shift that sense of survival and risk, beginning to look reckless and unpleasant rather than just challenging.

Lisa returned and took her seat, pressing the button overhead to call the attendant. She asked for coffee and water and then reached into the seat-back for the magazine.

Campbell tried to quell the turmoil of his thoughts and land on a solution, some sort of easy exit. Feign sickness or a family emergency perhaps? Could he not just quit his post and demand to be sent home? Refuse to cooperate? Nothing seemed feasible and as he tried to imagine playing along with whatever charade he was going to be asked to participate in he became aware of another feeling worming its way in. Curiosity. Maybe he wanted to know he was wrong to suspect something untoward or maybe he wanted to have his suspicions confirmed so that he could feel vindicated and not cowardly and paranoid. But either way, he wanted to know, there was no escaping that. The question was, how much?

 

*

 

Stepping out of the controlled climate of the aeroplane cabin into the Caribbean afternoon was such a change in temperature and pressure that Campbell almost felt more claustrophobic stepping outside, so oppressive was the heat and humidity closing around him.

They walked across the tarmac to the tiny airport terminal and pointed at the palm trees and the crystal blue sea past the fence at the end of the runway. Lisa smiled but said nothing, her enthusiasm dimmed either by the sapping effects of the long flight, or by his own infectious tension. Lawson had clearly woken with a hangover and walked in front of them, squinting behind the dark lenses of his Ray Bans.

Inside they waited for their bags and managed two of three. Lisa’s appeared first, a distinctive set of bright green straps wrapped around the case, as much to stand out on the luggage belt as to secure it shut. Lawson’s followed, distinct in its own way, simply more expensive looking than anything else nearby, it almost looked disdainful of the bags around it. Of Campbell’s own suitcase there was no sign.

Unloaded in error when they stopped in Barbados perhaps, they told him at the help desk; that sometimes happened. It would probably turn up in the morning.

With a shrug of acceptance at the seeming inevitability at this latest misfortune they set off in search of a cab and were met at arrivals by a driver holding a card that said ’Scorpion’ in bad handwriting that sloped down the page like the ink could not resist gravity.

The driver was friendly and chatty but he insisted that the lady take the front seat, since it was only polite and proceeded to devote as much attention to looking at her as at the road, though never once in the eye.

Campbell rolled his eyes at Lawson after the first few minutes of this, but Lawson was clearly more concerned about his headache than Lisa’s honour.

At the hotel they got checked in and Campbell was directed to the gift shop where they sold shorts and t-shirts, as well as golf clothes. Lawson assured them there were no meetings today so he could get himself some shorts and hit the beach as he had his own plans involving sleeping off the headache. Lisa made a remark about whether Campbell could reclaim the expenses of having to buy new clothes until his bag arrived or whether his insurance would cover it but before they could get anywhere Lawson had slapped a company credit card into his hand and told him the PIN Number.

’Get clothes, get a toothbrush, lay off the souvenirs and feel free to load up on cocktails around the pool if you want. I’ll catch you later,’ he said and with that he was gone.

Watching Lawson’s back as he made for the lifts with a porter hauling his bag for him Campbell smiled at Lisa. ‘There is perhaps no more gracious a host than one who hands you his credit card and leaves you to it.’

’Cocktails. He told us to have cocktails. That’s basically an assignment.’

’Lets not fail him then.’

’Let’s not. Room first, and a shower. Then cocktails.’

’Priorities and decisiveness. Go you.’

With Lawson out of the picture, the nagging sense of tension lifts a little and eases further when they get to the room which is large and well appointed. Lisa drops onto the bed to test the mattress and then follows Campbell in to the bathroom to marvel at just how much polished marble there can be in one room.

She hoists her suitcase onto the bed and pops it open, begins unpacking the clothes and digging for her wash bag. Campbell drops into the armchair and watches idly as she does so, his mind wandering pack to the ominous email he’d received from Steve. Don’t get on the plane.

There’s a feeling been creeping over him these past weeks, a feeling like being stalked in a maze, no idea if you’re getting yourself away from the danger or merely moving closer to it. He feels the occasional leaping flare of anxiety that he is about to round another corner and be faced with something malevolent, but at the same time, that to stop moving will bring the malevolence right down upon his back.

’Guess I’ll just sit here while you get done,’ he says, trying to snap himself out of it. She makes a face that attempts to convey sympathy at his lost bag and nearly manages it. She’s caught up in the excitement and if she has brought with her any of the trepidation from their discussions before the trip, she’s got a lid on it for now. He considers showing her the email, but decides against it.

After a few minutes of watching her hanging clothes and arranging toiletries and hair straighteners on the sideboard Campbell has found the remote for the TV and starts searching channels.

He neither knows nor cares whether what she does next is a deliberate response to having lost his attention to the TV, whether she planned it or whether it was simple spontaneity but no matter the motive, the effect is the same. Campbell stops watching TV.

Stopping to inspect the unpacking job, hands on hips, she closes the suitcase and slides it off the bed. Then she slips out of her clothes, wriggling out of jeans and peeling her t-shirt over her head. In skimpy panties and a matching bra she picks her wash bag up and trots to the bathroom and then stops at the door.

His eye is on her backside as she looks back at him and she feigns a look of reproach.

’I’m going to shower. So stay here and don’t go bursting in on me when I’m wet and soapy OK? That would be terrible.’

Campbell half smiles, half nods.

’No bursting in. Particularly no bursting in, taking your clothes off and joining me to scrub my back. Or front.’

A quarter nod, full smile.

’Good. That’s clear then. No bursting in. Don’t know why I keep saying it. I’ve probably just gone and planted the idea in your head now,’ she says and slips into the bathroom and clicks the door shut softly behind her.

Campbell is up and undressing just as soon as he snaps out of the daydream which he realises is only delaying itself from becoming reality.

He’s down to his boxers when the phone rings.

’Mr Campbell?’ asks a female voice, the accent determinedly neutral.

’Speaking.’

’We have you and your companion booked onto our scuba diving excursion in twenty minutes. Do you still intend to go or should I cancel the booking?’

When Lisa hears the bathroom door open and his padding footsteps across the tiles she applies a last burst of foaming shower gel to herself and waits for the curtain to open. A hand appears dangling something that she cannot make out through the steam and the soap running into her eyes.

’Get your kit on,’ he says and pulls the curtain back.

It is her swimming costume. He holds a towel in his other hand and has changed into the shorts, t-shirt and flip flops that Scorpio Capital just bought him in the gift shop.

She waits for an explanation but he says nothing.

’Dan. What?’

’We’re going diving. We’re booked on an excursion.’

’My eyes are up here,’ she says as his own stay fixed on points lower.

’Mm hm,’ he mumbles. ’I know where your eyes are,’ he says and then looks up and smiles.

She reaches for the towel and he withdraws it. ’Ah ah.’

’Stop messing about,’ she says.

’You need to rinse.’

She snaps the curtain back into place as he makes no sign of moving and begins to rinse away the soap.

’Sorry babe, but reception just called to say that we’re booked onto their diving excursion. We have to be on the beach in ten minutes.’

Her sense of disappointment and rejection fades at the prospect of diving the clear tropical waters and seeing some of the sights she saw in the in-flight magazine for herself.

’Who booked that?’ she asks as she steps out and takes the towel from him.

He shrugs and hands her the bikini he had been dangling in the steam earlier. ’Who cares? Lawson, or whoever at Scorpio has sorted the trip out. Bit of welcome to Grand Cayman hospitality before the hard work starts. Good way to clear the jet lag.’

’Why did nobody mention it when we checked in though?’

Another shrug. ’Just get dry so we can get wet.’

 

[]FORTY FIVE

 

They head down to the beach via the watersports shop where they are kitted out for wetsuits and fins – Lisa is reminded by the smiling attendant that they are not called flippers – and a buoyancy control device, which is like a large inflatable waistcoat. Its purpose is principally, as the name suggests, for buoyancy control. It is attached to the air supply and can be inflated or deflated depending on whether the wearer wishes to sink, hover or rise in the water.

Campbell is the more excited by the prospect of a scuba diving excursion in the clear tropical waters surrounding Grand Cayman and offers to carry all the kit to the boat. Lisa, still carrying some pent up tension, seems less enthused until they climb aboard and she begins to feel the gentle tide beneath the keel and the warm sunshine on her skin.

They get checked in and stow their gear and although Campbell’s watch tells him they are five minutes late, he immediately gets impatient for the off. For the first time in a long time he is able to put things to one side and focus on enjoying himself. This will be fun. It has been some time since he dived, not keen on doing so in the colder, cloudier waters of the UK, not when so far it has only been in the clear welcoming warmth of the tropics. But off on a boat, away from all things Scorpio, just him and Lisa, he can allow himself to forget it all for an hour or two.

Looking around the boat there’s quite a crowd getting ready for the off, expectant faces and sunburn. Campbell sees what mix it is; couples, a small family with teenage children, a few middle aged men who have the look of the corporate away-day about them and above all he notes, they all as though they have money. Especially the short haired aloof looking guy sitting talking to a burly, tough-looking man who Campbell concludes, must be a bodyguard. They don’t look a natural pair and there’s a certain quiet respect being observed by the bodyguard that speaks of a relationship not founded on friendship and warmth.

The aloof, rich-looking man shoots Campbell a look and he’s suddenly self-conscious about the gift shop clothing. Is the man sneering at him? As though he senses instinctively that Campbell does not belong here amongst all this money.

He is made to wait a little longer as the guide begins his welcome-aboard speech and runs through some basic safety with them all. He is wrapping up, promising to do the rest of the talk once they are underway when he is interrupted by two latecomers who sling their gear over the side and jump in without waiting to be invited.

‘Sorry, bit last minute,’ says one and begins searching for space to stow his gear along with his companion. Both are tanned and sinewy, and whilst the one who spoke has short cropped blonde hair, the other seems to have landed somewhere between two different hairstyles, a sort of shark-fin Mohican on top, with an ultra short buzz cut on the sides.

The furrowed brows and lack of eye contact with the guide gets his eyes rolling behind their backs and he makes a show of waiting for them, before saying ‘If you’re good then gents?’ in an arch tone.

Both shoot him a look and a brisk nod and get back to squaring things away before giving a cursory look around the seating on either side of the boat and then making for the spots either side of Lisa.

Campbell looks to catch the attention of the one trying to squeeze in between them as Lisa complains at the unceremonious manner in which the other inserts himself into the too-small space.

‘Hey!’ Campbell begins to protest and the dive guide intervenes.

‘OK guys, careful there. Can we just get settled and get going?’

The man between them grunts and waves a hand. ‘Yes. Let’s go.’

‘Thank you,’ says the guide in the same arch tone. It draws a look from the surly man and Campbell feels himself start to tense. This is no place for a confrontation, but these guys are pushing it.

Guys, he reminds himself. Plural. They don’t strike him as the rich playboy type, or even the new-moneyed Russians that stand out so much, making the wealthy American tourists that he’s seen around the hotel and resort look positively understated.

The few words that have been spoken gave nothing away in the accent and Campbell wonders whether they are off-duty bodyguards for someone. The physique, the attitude. It would make sense, he supposes. Or perhaps some self-important, hyper-successful hedge fund guys running on the rocket fuel of ego and testosterone and still harbouring admiration for Patrick Bateman, American Psycho, but missing the satire.

Campbell is about to tap the one next to him on the shoulder to suggest they switch places but the dive guide has switched on a microphone so he can be heard above the sound of the engine and the waves. The feedback makes everyone wince.

‘OK, guys. I need everyone to listen for a few minutes whilst we run through things. Safety first and then we’ll take you through the itinerary and some of the things that you can expect to see today and a little bit about the islands.

‘Now, you see off in the distance there, a white line across the ocean, like lots of waves breaking all in the same place?’ They all turn to look toward the horizon and the thick line of foam and surf about a mile and a half out.

‘Well, that is what is known around here as The Wall. Where the beach drops down under the sea,’ he says and points back to shore, ‘the seabed falls away gradually and bottoms out until you get to the wall. This is the shelf upon which the island sits. So from there to there you have lots of reef, lots of sand bars and lots and lots of fish and sea life. You will not be disappointed. After that, the sea bed goes into a pretty sheer drop off at The Wall, and that is a different proposition entirely. The sea is colder, much choppier and not for the faint of heart or more to the point, for the under-qualified diver, which judging by our roster today, most of you are. No offence meant, but if you want to get close to The Wall, you’ll need to do a few more certified dives and get a few more badges… all of which we can arrange of course, so ask me later for a price list.’

This crack gets the first murmur of laughter and then the dive guide is off again, circling back to the safety run down and then onto the spots that they will stop at for their dive.

Campbell steals a look at Lisa who is trying to keep her attention focused on the dive guide so that it is not on either of the men whose shoulders are pressing against her from both sides.

He thinks again about asking to switch seats but thinks how it would look in front of all these people and the dive guide doing his best to add seriousness and gravity to his safety talk. Please sir, I want to sit next to my girlfriend sir. I’m entirely threatened by the fact that another man is sitting next to her instead of me. I’m a little pathetic and needy sir.

He sits tight and waits for the speech to finish. Once that’s done and there’s some quiet time to watch the ocean and spot some wildlife over the side, then he’ll stand up and get this ignorant moron to slide his ass down a few feet.

The speech rambles and rambles and finally finishes about ten seconds after the engine cuts out, like the dive guide has timed and rehearsed it a hundred times to coincide with the arrival at the designated dive site. Logical, Campbell figures; keeps everyone sitting still and in their seats.

‘OK, guys, suit up,’ he says and Campbell notes that is the most succinct the man has been so far, all previous chatter delivered in a meandering fashion with ten words are used where five would have done.

Everyone is up and eager to get into their gear and into the water so Campbell stands with the rest of them and digs out their equipment and positions himself ready to slip into the bench next to Lisa as he puts hers down next to her. The man in between them with the shark-fin hair is busy and focused on his own kit though, as though having staked his claim to this particular patch of painted wood, he will not now surrender it.

‘Excuse me,’ Campbell says and then repeats it when the man fails to respond. ‘Excuse me,’ and he pats the shoulder, noting its solidity.

Shark-fin stands and turns. He’s shorter than Campbell but not by much. He stays silent but questions Campbell with the frown he wears.

‘Would you mind shifting over a little? Just so I can…’ and he gestures at Lisa. ‘… or maybe switch places.’

Shark-fin turns and points at the kit he has spread out on the bench and then Campbell notes that on her other side, the man’s companion has done the same leaving precious little room for manoeuvre.

‘Dan, just get ready there,’ Lisa says looking flustered and pointing at the vacant spot along the bench. She looks embarrassed and irritated all at once and for a flicker Campbell wonders if she is annoyed at him for having dragged her into this when she’d been planning to be naked in the shower with him and he’d rejected the offer in favour of this.

He nods and sets his own gear down in the space he’d been sitting in and stares at the man who is either so engrossed in getting himself kitted up and ready to dive that he does not notice or is simply making an effort to look that way. Whatever it is, it riles Campbell and he begins to unpack his gear untidily, spilling across the space, his elbows out wide, his body encroaching on the other man’s space. But though his simmering temper wants a response, it does not get one.

Around the deck, people are almost ready, busy getting into their gear and safety-checking each other’s kit as they run through drills. The guide is making his way around and helping out and Campbell sees Mr Aloof being helped with his tank as he looks across the boat at him, smirking slightly.

In a few more minutes he is chewing on his anger and is half ready when he notices something in his peripheral vision. Lisa and the man to her other side, so far silent and reserved but no less ignorant, has somehow managed to get some of his gear tangled with hers. There are hoses and straps all over the Buoyancy Control Device and the two of them are wordlessly attempting to unknot various tangles.

Campbell takes a step forward but the meathead in between them moves backwards to adjust something and Campbell has to duck to avoid a jutting elbow.

‘OK, who’s ready? Anyone who’s kitted up and buddied up, please make your way slowly to the stern and we’ll start getting you in.’ The dive guide has got himself outfitted and in position and is waving people toward him.

‘Lisa. Everything alright?’ Campbell asks and steps round the meathead.

Her expression still has that pinched look of annoyance but there’s a pleading there too now, as if to say ‘what took you so long?’

He comes over to take a closer look but then when he asks to see if he can help with the tangle, Shark-fin’s companion waves him away and busies himself with the hoses. Lisa is in her wetsuit and has her mask and fins arranged on the bench ready to put on. But without the BCD she’s got nothing to do but wait. She looks at Campbell and they stare at each other for a while but can find little to say.

The boat is starting to empty not and the dive guide is calling for everyone to hurry up.

‘You might as well finish up,’ she says. ‘Then you can help me when I’ve got my BCD back.’

In reality, there is very little to finish up and he keeps looking round to see the progress of the untangling but there seems to be little taking place. He sees that the last people to go over the side are the bodyguard and his aloof boss who is looking over again and the smirk is still there, like he is enjoying Campbell’s misfortune. As if to say that this is what happens to riff-raff like you when you venture where you don’t belong.

Then he too is gone and it is just he and Lisa, the dive guide, the captain at the wheel and morons one and two who remain topside.

‘Guys, let’s get in then,’ says the dive guide, impatient at the on-going delay, at the idiot tourists who can’t keep their gear from tying itself in knots for the duration of a twenty minute boat ride.

‘They can’t get in tied together mate, can they,’ Campbell says, irritated that they’ve somehow been dragged into this. If these two had just sat themselves together when they’d seen the obvious couple, rather than flanking the young girl in the swimsuit, then it would be them trying to undo their own mess and he and Lisa would be twenty meters deep into paradise.

‘Guys it is your own time you’re wasting,’ says the dive guide, trying to sound conciliatory, failing. ‘And I need to be in the water too, I need to be supervising.’

Campbell looks at him, looks at the moron with the hose knots in his sausage fingers getting no better. Lisa tries to reach in at one point then withdraws her hand and runs it through her hair, exasperated.

‘Look, you two guys are ready. Why don’t you buddy up for now and then if the tangles get sorted you can either swap over in the water or swap at the next site?’ Dive guide is keen to get moving and can see just as clear as the rest of them that it’s the most sensible solution.

‘Plus didn’t you want to get certified for your next badge?’

Campbell nodded. Having flashed his PADI card at the guy at the dive shop the attendant had noted that he was halfway toward the next level of qualification and had asked if he’d like to try to tick off the other half whilst he was here.

‘Right then, we can do that now if you like? Your new pal here can help out. That OK with you? At least you’re in the water then and your friend can follow when he’s done the cub scout thing with the knots there.’

Campbell looks at Lisa and is about to turn the offer down. He had no wish to leave her behind and was keen to share the experiences of their trip, whatever they might be. More to the point, he was eager not to leave her in the company of two strange men, one of whom was part of a pair that Campbell had fast developed a firm dislike for.

‘Go Dan, I’ll just wait here,’ she said and stopped his protest in its tracks. ‘Go on, you’re dying to get in and there’s no sense us all missing out just because of this mess.’ She was pointing at the knot of rubber hose and nylon bindings but she meant the clumsy moron standing next to her.

‘Go.’ It was the captain’s turn to get involved now, wandering out of the wheelhouse with a smile. ‘I’ll show the lady the spot on the roof to catch the best sun while we wait. Your man here will have this undone in a moment anyway.’

There was no more debate to be had and Shark-fin gives Campbell a shrug, raises his eyebrows and drops over the side.

The other moron with the ham-fists looked up at Campbell then, making eye contact just as he dropped away into the water, the first time either of them had done so.

 

[]FORTY SIX

 

It was worth the wait. He had been so desperate to see it all the way through himself, but Rookes had counselled caution, as he was paid to do, and insisted that someone else handled it.

Horner had deferred to the clear-eyed judgement of his security man and conceded that no only was it sensible not to have any direct involvement, where there might be witnesses and evidence but moreover that for all the things that Michael Horner was, a killer was not one of them.

Rookes had not needed to say it, but Horner knew it was true. He’d never murdered anyone, not himself, and there was much about it that might go wrong.

He had made it clear that he wished that he could be here and Rookes had suggested that they go along for the ride. Campbell did not, after all, know what Horner looked like. The two had never laid eyes on each other during the previous affair when their paths had crossed so spectacularly.

He’d been thrilled to have been granted his wish and Rookes knew well enough how that would play out when it came to doling out bonus payments.

The wait had been a long one, but it was nearly all over now. He’d watched as Campbell and Lisa had arrived on the boat; recognising her from the information that Lawson had sent him on recruiting her. He’d tried not to stare at Campbell, though the other man was too caught up in other things to really notice.

Horner couldn’t help but smile as Rookes’ men did their work and he waited as long as he could to savour Campbell’s discomfort. He’d orchestrated plenty so far; the mugging, the drugs, the relentless insistence on dragging him out partying in London so it seemed like a painful, punishing grind rather than fun, amounting almost to sleep deprivation. He thought of it a little like a renditioned CIA suspect subjected to interrogation techniques that the world labelled torture. The ear splitting music, the poor diet, no sleep. Stress positions too of a sort, he supposed, trapped and struggling to get comfortable as Campbell always seemed to be. Isolated from his friends and allies like he was in solitary confinement.

No waterboarding though, not so far. But then that was always a last resort.

Horner dropped into the clear blue right behind Rookes and waited, feeling the anticipation tingle inside him like the first hit of a drug.

 

 

[] FORTY SEVEN

 

He will pick it apart later but it will not take long to deconstruct it all. The way the two men squeezed themselves into the spaces next to them, the manner in which they were so ignorant and incommunicable to the point of splitting them up. Divide and conquer.

And here it came. Here’s how it would play.

The exercise that Campbell needs to execute is to remove and BCD whilst underwater, to slip entirely out of the bulky waistcoat and then replace it. It is a skill that is challenging and frightening under the circumstances but one that Campbell had performed before and it is not especially complicated if done with care. His particular task however, is to demonstrate this to the other man before observing him perform it. Once he’s done this successfully, he’s got enough credits to get his next badge.

When his new dive buddy moves in mid way through this procedure Campbell hesitates a moment, wondering whether he is panicking, wishes to get his attention for something, or is just plain screwing things up again. He’s been a pain in the ass enough so far, so why not now?

But then he feels the tug and pull on the BCD and after his initial confusion, he begins to realise. He is out of the BCD now, holding it in front of him with both hands as the regulator is gripped in his clenched teeth.

The persistence and violence of the attack becomes clear fast, and Campbell fights the flaring panic as he recalls the sinewy toughness of the other man, the ripped muscles of his arms and shoulders as he squeezed himself into his wetsuit on the boat.

The BCD is yanked and twisted and he clings desperately to it, bites down the harder on the regulator. The other man pulls hard and persistent and then begins to grab and crush Campbell’s fingers, wrenching his hands and wrists around with excruciating force.

He grips and struggles but the fight is lost and he feels the initiative slip from him no matter how frantically he attempts to resist.

He tries to bring his knees up between them and kick the man away and then grabs at the other man’s mask, but it is just one less hand on his own kit and the air supply he needs.

It flashes through his mind then and he knows that his desperation to suppress the tingling sting of paranoia that’s been there since the two of them arrived late and started acting strangely has been a horrendous mistake. He was right to worry and right to suspect and simply wanting to be wrong is never a defence.

He knows too that precious time has passed since they got in the water, following the man down and having to grab him to slow his descent, then correct his direction as he wandered off course. Campbell cursed himself for putting this down to stupidity. He’s been led away from everyone else. Away from safety.

With a final ferocious tug the BCD is wrenched from him, air tank and all and then the looming bulk of his assailant fins upward, pulls a knife from inside his own buoyancy control device and rips it fast down the inside of Campbell’s BCD, releasing a large burst of air.

The regulator is still gripped in his teeth, the hose stretched taut and in his desperation and panic he gulps as much as he can before he loses that too and then his attacker twists the hose in his fist, pulls at it and then raises the knife. Deciding on the quick decisive option, rather than playing tug o’ war with Campbell’s clenched jaw, he severs the hose.

Campbell spits the regulator out and watches the other man drop the dead weight of the air tank and begin making his way to the surface.

The rising sense of panic and adrenaline peak with a shrieking crescendo. The air is gone, the BCD is gone and the psycho with the knife has done his work.

 

[] FORTY EIGHT

 

Lisa is spared the charade that Campbell has been put through. No sooner has she unzipped the wetsuit and headed for the spot on the roof that the captain points out than her new dive buddy appears over her, leering down.

He holds up the two now-separated BCDs and smiles as she hurriedly pulls the wetsuit back into place from around her waist.

In no time they are in the water and dropping fast. She looks around for Campbell, but good as the visibility is, she cannot spot him. There are numerous dark shapes in the distant dimness but none of them distinct enough to be recognised.

When she turns back, her mute dive buddy has come in very close, but gone is the grin and the leer, replaced by a dead-eyed coldness that would chill a shark.

She jolts backward in surprise, but too quick he has taken her arms at the shoulder and grips hard, too hard for her to shake.

For a moment she begins to struggle but he looks her in the eye and very slowly shakes his head. Then he turns his thumb down.

This, in the underwater sign language of the scuba diver, simply indicates the intention to descend. Conversely, a thumbs up means to head upward. A circled finger and thumb gesture indicates, or asks, that things are OK. Lisa does not expect to see him make that sign anytime soon.

But in her fear, she wonders whether she has misread him. Perhaps, she thinks, he mistook her head-swivelling scan for Campbell as a sign of panic and is merely trying to take control and instil calmness.

He disabuses her of this notion swiftly as he snakes a thick arm around her and then begins swimming deeper at pace.

She kicks and twists but he has a hundred pounds on her and the added advantage that they are both wearing weight belts.

She surrenders the fight, knowing that she has lost this round, or cannot win, hoping that she might save her energy to snatch any opportunity that presents it self from here to escape. Pull his mask off, scratch his eyes. A good solid kick in the nuts maybe, or if the fins on her feet ruled that out, a simple grab and crush of a handful of whatever she could get hold of between his legs. The thought that she was not done yet consoled her momentarily.

At thirty meters, he slowed his pace and began to search around below him, his arm clamped tight around her the whole time. She may just as well have been tied up.

They headed off level at thirty meters for a distance and then he seemed to spot something in the darkening murk and changed course.

Stopping after a little more distance he looked at her and pointed out into the gloom at two shapes. This deep, with more sediment and less sunlight, it was not obvious who she was looking at, but she had a good idea. Then her eyes began to adjust and she recognised him. The shape of him, the bright orange fins he had insisted on pulling from the rack of yellow ones, the black hair.

She watched as Campbell slipped himself out of the buoyancy control device and wondered for a minute why he would surrender so readily before it hit her; he didn’t know.

Of course not. He wasn’t supposed to.

But perhaps now it would be dawning on him, as the other man set about him, pulling away the black waistcoat with the air tank attached. She could see the thin black line of the hose running back through the water to his mouth, a literal lifeline.

Then a cloud of bubbles erupted into the water as the glint of a knife slashed through the material and then moments later again as it sliced through the hose.

The mute turned back to her and slid off his own weight belt and then slipped it around her hips and pulled it tight. Lisa stared wild-eyed. What was this now? Was he getting rid of his own gear, the better to go to Campbell’s aid? Was he really here to help, after dragging her down here and making her watch? No chance.

Deftly, no sausage fingers now, he unfastened her BCD and motioned that she slip out of it.

Shaking her head frantically she grabbed at it with her hands and tried to refasten the clips.

Even with the slowing effects of the water, the punch landed with exceptional force, crunching into her solar plexus, only half absorbed by the thick padding of the inflated garment.

Gasping furiously on the regulator she tried to suck air and fight the winded sensation and the panic rising in her like a balloon from the depths.

She felt her own BCD ripped and dragged from her, tugged over her shoulders, her arms pushed through the holes and then finally, though she clung to it with every shred of her fear-fuelled strength, her own regulator was yanked free and her air supply was gone.

The weight belts did their work and as she sank, the feeling of acceleration was all the more pronounced as the mute headed away from her for the surface, like a falling skydiver watching someone else pull their ripcord.

 

[]FORTY NINE

 

Watching his attacker rise like a cork whilst staring down and flashing the knife as he went, Campbell finally knew what fear felt like. Pure and undiluted, it was a hit of adrenaline and naked terror unlike anything he had known before. The ropes and the blindfold in the east London lock-up, the shoot-out in the house, any of the bungee jumps, deep-jungle treks into dangerous guerrilla territory in South East Asia, or trapped in the unyielding grasp of a tiny funnel of rock, all of them combined would have fallen short of this.

The worst of it was he had put himself here. His determination to escape the drudgery of life, to seek out something to replace that lost buzz after the incident and all the threat and peril that had stalked his life. That had driven his decision-making to find new thrills, new risks to take, new experiences to fill his days. It had driven him to go travelling, taken him to Scorpio and now it had put him here, meters from the sea bed, several lungfuls from the surface and no air supply.

No air?

He slapped at his weight belt and his hip and looked down desperately through the swirling silt. Had he attached it?

There. His hand hit the cylinder and he tugged at it frantically, disconnecting it from the clasp as his lungs began to burn and his throat began to tighten, like instinct was battling with reason. He would breath in again, no question. It was only a question of when.

He held the cylinder in his hand up to his face and peered at the instructions but he’d read them over several times already and though he’d not used it before, knew how to. The day-glo writing down the side was bright as sunshine here in the depths. Spare Air. It was the size of a large aerosol can and rather than a spray nozzle, it had a small rubber regulator at the top, just like the one that attacked to his lost air tank, the one that Shark-fin had torn from his mouth.

Like any good insurance policy, it was better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. He worked the functions fast and jammed it into his mouth.

Nothing.

For a moment that crashing riot of panic was back and his eyes went wide as his throat strained to open but it was merely the delay and suddenly, blissfully, the air erupted through the regulator and into his mouth. It tasted foul and delicious all at once.

Campbell gulped it in and rolled his head back in relief, looking up at the distance to the surface, he knew he could make it now, even with a decompression stop.

Then he saw it.

The dark shape dropping toward him was too small to be his assailant returning and his brain could not process the information. Then he noted the swirl of hair around her head and the petite frame and he realised. Of course.

Both of them.

Her arms were waving frantically, grasping at the water and Campbell swam to her and caught her, surprised at the weight as he fought to arrest her descent.

She looked at him, unadulterated panic, and he had to grab her hands to stop her clawing at his face and knocking the Spare Air away. He wrapped his legs around hers and felt them both begin to slide lower again, then jammed the regulator into her mouth.

She wasted little time in sucking in deep lungfuls of air and Campbell released her legs and tried to kick against the downward momentum. He felt her fingers dig hard into his flesh through the wetsuit, still gripped by the terror of their predicament and he looked at her, fixed her eyes with his and then with forefinger and middle finger pointed at her eyes, then his. Watch me. Keep your eyes on me.

She did and the sudden narrowed focus seemed to calm her. She pulled hard on the Spare Air again before Campbell gestured for its return. She yielded it reluctantly.

Taking two deep breaths he handed it back and she grabbed it and sucked hard again. He could see that he would need to leave it with her as much as possible to quell her raging panic if they were to deal with this situation and after another couple of exhalations he made the thumb and forefinger circle to ask if she was OK now. She nodded and then responded in kind with the sign, remembering the training she’d had years before. Be clear, use the signals.

As they drifted and sank he kept the relay going with the canister, two and pass, two and pass. He could feel her tension ebb away, her fingers loosen a little as she calmed. It was essential that she relax. If she spooked again she might do something that he couldn’t control. Important to get her calm and focused.

Campbell took another hit on the canister and then saw what was dragging them down; two weight belts. The other guy had not only taken her equipment, but weighted her down too, like a cat in a bag.

He looked up at her and positioned himself to better get at the buckle when he spotted the gauge on the side of the Spare Air.

Down by half already.

In their desperation and panic they had used up half the tank. It was not designed to last very long and it was certainly not designed for two. Campbell looked up again at the receding surface and tried to calculate how far it might get them if they shared it. He didn’t take long to figure it out. The only way would be to go so fast that they’d give themselves decompression sickness and at this depth – and how far further had they sunk since he’d last checked? – it would most likely prove fatal.

He went back to the belts, keen to avoid letting his worry show or give her anything more to panic about. Then he made a decision.

Holding both weight belts in his fist he looked at her and made the watch-me sign. She nodded and offered the Spare Air.

Taking three big hits, he handed it back and began to attach the weight belts to himself.

She frowned and raised a questioning palm. What are you doing?

He pointed at the canister then at himself and then at her. Then he wagged his finger in a clear No-No gesture.

She stared at him as it registered, then he pointed at the canister again and then just her and made the OK circle.

Not us. Just you.

She shook her head at him, the fear blazing in her eyes again but he grabbed her shoulders, nodded vigorously and made the Up sign with his thumb, jabbing it toward the surface.

She did not understand what he was thinking but there was no more time to try to explain it to her.

Sometimes you have to hit bottom first. Campbell pushed her up and dropped fast into the darkness.

 

[]FIFTY

 

Horner has got the hovering technique just right. There was time enough once they got in and under the water to drop to the right depth and start adjusting the buoyancy control, adding and then releasing air to the BCD until he just hung there in the water, buffeted gently by the waves.

It was calm and tranquil this far from the surface and he watched the schools of fish skim the seabed and a turtle spot him as it swam and turn away. After a moment, Rookes intruded and pointed up at the splash from above as more bodies entered the water and started to descend.

They began to go through the motions so as not to attract Campbell’s attention, and then set off slowly in pursuit as Shark-fin led Campbell away from the main group who had all spread out in search of their own little patch of ocean. There was no need to adjust his position in the water, maintaining the same depth and enjoying the view from up high as the show began.

His excited mind was locked on this moment, intent on savouring it all, on remembering everything. He had to resist the burning urge to drop closer to get a better view as it played out but as it was Rookes had got them in a perfect spot to watch the attack.

Horner wondered again about whether the young couple would be missed in the count back on the boat but Rookes was nothing if not thorough and had tampered with the list on the dive guide’s clipboard when everyone was watching Lisa and the other man trying to untangle their gear. No doubt he’d be sure and follow up later with some distraction or other to make sure that nobody stopped to look for them.

There was a burst of bubbles beneath them as Shark-fin’s knife tore open Campbell’s BCD and Horner felt a strange compulsion to head for them as they rose. To take out his regulator and inhale them maybe or just feel them surge over him, like he was immersing himself in this exalted revenge.

He watched as the struggle came to an end, the hose pulled tight, the knife slicing through it and Campbell set adrift in the deep, lost and finished.

He almost didn’t see Lisa, so fixated was he on Campbell’s distress but Rookes tapped him on the leg and pointed her out, being dragged lower by the other man they’d sent for the job, an arm clamped around her slender frame.

Horner felt that this was a more distasteful experience to witness but a necessary one all the same. The girl had overstepped the mark and seemed to have involved herself with Campbell far more intimately than was convenient. He didn’t know how much she knew about everything but he had neither the time or inclination to find out. She was expendable and so he watched as the other man got to work and then gestured to Rookes that he had seen enough.

Rookes gave him the OK thumb-and-finger circle and they headed off, keen to be away from the scene as soon as possible and surface elsewhere just in case somebody else saw something that they weren’t supposed to.

Back on the boat Rookes went to work chattering busily with the dive guide as he tried to tick off the names of people as they emerged from the water in pairs and before he could double check his form or question himself Rookes was up on the seating round the edge of the boat and pointing off at the horizon.

‘Look, there! Over there! What’s that?’ he shouted excitedly and suddenly everyone was up and staring off into the distance at a calm ocean.

‘What was it?’ someone asked.

‘There. Right there,’ Rookes said again pointing at the same spot. ‘Did you not see it?’

‘Where? See what?’ the dive guide is next to him and coaxing him back down onto the deck.

‘Something breached. About a hundred yards. Quite big,’ Rookes keeps on and even Horner finds himself looking to catch a glimpse of the imaginary creature.

‘Something breached?’ asked the dive guide but then the others are clamouring to see and they are all one side of the boat and it pushes deeper into the waves, listing with the shifting weight.

‘OK, wait a sec everyone please. No standing up on the seats,’ he says. ‘And let’s get back to our spots on this side too, let’s get spread out a bit.’

Everyone does as they are bid, but reluctantly and with eyes fixed on the horizon where Rookes was pointing. There are raised voices and people are demanding that the boat head over there, fast before they miss it.

The dive guide relents as he herds people back into position and nods at the Captain who starts up and swings the boat round in the direction that everyone is still looking in.

Rookes settles back down next to Horner and smiles.

‘Well, that was exciting.’

 

[]FIFTY ONE

 

He does not know how far away the boat is until he sees the boil and churn of propellers in the vanishing distance. He is amazed at how far it is but then remembers the long diverting meander that he was led on their way down. The little lost sheep all the time the shepherd.

He’s got one chance now, wafer thin, but at least he’ll have spared Lisa from drowning in the salty depths. She may have to fend for herself up there but at worst she could swim back to shore. He recalls the talk from the dive guide about the relative calm of the inshore waters this side of the wall and knows she can make it so long as she ascends to the surface in time.

Campbell drops and knows it needs to be faster so he upends himself and thrusts his hands in front and kicks hard for the sea-bed, the double weight belt like a turbo charger.

Somewhere on the approaching sea-bed will be his sliced up BCD and so too will the air tank.

As the murk clears a little and the floor opens out he searches desperately for a sign of it. From higher up he has an overview of the area it will have dropped onto, but the closer he gets to it, the narrower his field of vision.

Finally he spots it, a black smudge in the grey sand and drifting seaweed. He sprints through the water to the discarded garment and sees the vicious tear in the lining that the blade opened up, a wound that could as easily have been ripped across his flesh.

He grabs at it and flips it over but he does not need to see any more, the weight of it tells him that the tank is not attached.

He looks around frantically and he feels his lungs beginning to strain again. He tries not to think about it but his mind starts doing calculations anyway.

Twenty seconds since his last big hit of air and his farewell to Lisa, thirty maybe. Another thirty before it gets bad. Twenty, thirty more before it cannot be held any longer and nature takes over? He can almost hear the ticking stopwatch in his head, marking off time.

He scans the swirling gloom, tries to do so systematically, in sections, fighting the urge to dart his head around in every direction.

No tank.

Tick… tick… tick…

He tries to fin up a few metres, fighting the weight belts and looks around again from a better angle. It’s not enough and he realises that to go higher will just expend time and energy. He needs to catch a break.

Tick… tick… tick…

He is looking for the inanimate shape of the aluminium grey of the tank on the sand but something in his field of vision, some movement in the dark distance doesn’t fit.

Tick… tick… tick…

Bubbles.

A column of bubbles is rising in the water thirty yards away, straight and regular. That must be it, must be.

He bolts for it and notes that he is heading for a deeper bank of colour than he has been used to, swirled with grey movement as the strong ocean tides hit the surging cliff face.

The Wall.

He pushes down his clamouring fear like he has many times before and he arrows through the water for the foreboding darkness and the single trickle of air winding its way up from somewhere below.

Tick… tick…

He draws closer and feels the churn and pull of the deeper water and the furious currents lurking there.

Without hesitation Campbell shoots out over the lip and into the maw of the deep. His eyes are down and his hands are pulling at the rolling current as it hits the sharp sudden rise of the wall, Campbell finds and follows the bubble column and knows that whatever happens now, he cannot stop and give in to doubt.

Tick…

Another meter, another. The bubbles keep coming and the light keeps fading. The ferocious churn of the water out here pounds and saps him as he fights against it and as the extraordinary strain in his lungs and the burning in his chest overtakes the pain in his muscles he finally sees it.

Tick…

Sitting on a ledge on the sheer drop of the wall is the discarded air tank, leaking out bubbles through the severed hose.

He kicks and strains down further and watches as the buffeting water rocks the tank back into the rock face and then out again, toward the very edge.

Tick…

Not now. Not like this, he thinks.

The gap closes agonisingly slowly, the seething fury of the ocean smashing up against the cliff face does all it can to keep him from his prize but Daniel Campbell is unwilling to accept defeat in the black desolation down here. He will not accept anything other than his own will to triumph.

He grabs at the tank as it rolls to the lip of the ledge again and he snatches at the bubbling hose. The tank is sucked away into space and hovers there for a moment, suspended by the competing currents moving in different directions.

Tick.

But the hose is in his fist now and he pulls it in, wrapping the tank into a tight embrace, like a lost child returned. He jams the hose into his mouth and lets the air spray in.

It forces water in too, cold and salty and heavy with silt, but that’s of no interest.

He breathes.

Slowly and carefully he feeds his starved lungs and ignores the burning urge to gulp it in, knowing he will choke and drown if he does so. Gradually the pain subsides and he becomes aware of where he is again, drifting lower down the abyssal drop of the wall.

He fins upward, fighting the weight belts now as well as the water, and quickly gives up on the idea.

Drawing his legs up he clasps the tank with his thighs and bites hard on the hose.

He pulls one weight belt loose from his waist quickly and drops it into the deep and then removes the second. This one too is threaded with black lumpen weights like tumours but instead of dropping it all in one, he slides the weights off and keeps the belt.

Kicking awkwardly, divested of the extra weight and with full lungs, he moves upward toward the top of the wall and then as he draws level, wraps an arm around the tank, stretches his legs and moves for the sheltered waters beyond. When he gets clear of the wall and into the relative shallows he feels the brutal mauling subside and takes a moment to rest and gather himself, savouring the respite.

He takes the tank and straps it to his chest with the now weight-free belt. Easing more air through the hose into his mouth he begins his ascent.

He has no idea what air is left in this tank, only that it has been leaking since he was separated from it. There will be no time for long decompression stops on the way up as his safety training dictates, and in any event, he has no idea how he would manage to pause and hover in the water at a constant depth for any length of time without the aid of the buoyancy control device.

But what has hit bottom must now bounce back up and he will face whatever awaits him.

 

[]FIFTY TWO

 

‘Caspar! Take a seat.’

Caspar? Hogg doesn’t remember the last time Horner addressed him by his first name. He’s unusually chipper.

Indeed as Hogg walks in and sits, he notes that there is a flush of colour in Horner’s cheeks, the embedded frown lines have softened significantly and there’s a tone in his voice that he’s not sure he’s heard before.

‘Coffee? Anyone coffee?’ asks Horner and then Hogg notices the other two men in the room standing at the window looking out. The squat Malaysian man and his flick-knife of a sidekick.

Everyone nods and Horner sets about the coffee machine in the corner, starts doing it himself. The strangeness curdles and makes Hogg feel uncomfortable.

He notes that the two men at the window are talking in low voices and more than once they flash a look at Horner that plants a thought in Hogg’s mind. So far he’s been worrying that he best not make himself too expendable. But if that look at Horner means anything like he thinks, then there may be very little he can do about it. If they decide to rid themselves of their reluctant ally, then what on earth would they need with the slobby tech guy who knows everything?

Horner walks a tray around the room and when Hogg takes his, Horner has his back to the others and looks Hogg in the eye with an expression that cuts through all the bonhomie. There’s something afoot here, some sort of game playing out and Hogg wonders if he’ll be made to pick a side.

‘Caspar,’ Horner says as he spins on his heel and returns the tray to the coffee table. ‘Our guests are keen to know more about the operation. Specifically the security.’

Hogg hesitates, wondering why he is here instead of Rookes, but then the penny drops.

‘The TOR. The Onion Router?’ he says.

‘Onion?’ says Dusan sharply.

Hogg nods. ‘Yes, it’s an encryption process known as the TOR or The Onion Router.’

‘It refers to the multi-layered nature of it you see. Like an onion,’ Horner offers but Dusan scowls at him. His English may be a step or two behind but his mind isn’t.

‘That’s it. The messages bounce around different servers on their way to the destination and each one strips away a layer of encryption. Even then, the message delivered at the end is itself encrypted. Read-protected you might say.’

‘Like a password?’

‘Yep, sort of. We send out a gif file with the password embedded in it so you have to actually watch it to see it. Any surveillance software that picked it up and scanned it would only see code for a gif file, there’s no way that the surveillance software can actually read what’s in the file unless it watches it. Which it won’t.’

‘It won’t? For sure?’

‘No. They don’t have the capacity for that level of analysis. They scan for watchwords and stuff. The gif needs to be seen by a human so they know what to look for within the moving image. And that’s only if they’d penetrated the TOR deep enough to intercept.’

‘Then what?’

‘The gif tells you the password and which prompt to follow from the list you’ll have had at the early stage.

‘From there you go to any number of innocuous looking internet pages like dating sites or fan forums for pop stars or sports teams. Some have basic instructions in them – the stock ticker, the bid price, where to buy it or short it. There’s no step-by-step “Stock Trades For Dummies” kind of instructions, but the info is all there.

‘Then somewhere else there’s a link to the company in question and the password key gets you past the security wall and in there it tells you more about what to buy, how to buy it, why you buy and when to sell. Or at least when you’ll be told when to sell.’

Horner looks at him as he talks and his eyes linger before he nods at Hari and Dusan.

‘It’s Russia as Churchill had it. A mystery in a riddle in an enigma.’

‘You talk in riddle sometimes.’ Dusan is not done scowling but Horner is looking again at Hogg.

What, he thinks, did you not think I would check? All those days constructing the system, sitting at the machine, sending out messages that seemed like nonsense. Once you spot the pattern, the rest of the puzzle gets much easier. Hogg had noticed the similarity to some of the three letter codes and the numbers that were going out in the TOR messages when he browsed the internet in boredom. HTE, BVE, SES, BAT. There were more, with numbers and symbols too but one excruciating day of coding had led him on a wandering tour of internet pages trying to relieve the boredom, idly clicking links that seemed vaguely interesting, landing up from some clickbait news story into a news site, from there into the business pages and scrolling through the dry headlines about quarterly reports and M&A he spots more of them. They are stock tickers, he learns. The abbreviations attached to stocks on trading exchanges and databases, the better to list them in a uniform fashion, rather than their potentially lengthy full trading names. It would only take a typo to end up with a trade executed incorrectly when you were entering two or three words, perhaps not of your own tongue, into a computer screen somewhere. Better to standardise and simplify.

The numbers, he reasoned, must be prices; the symbols denoting currency perhaps, or whether they were a buy or a short sell.

Horner had not wanted anyone to know more than their allotted role within the cellular structure of his organisation, but Hogg saw no reason to let the other man hold all the cards.

The Malaysian crime lord and his flick-knife sidekick weren’t supposed to be here either, so Hogg figured he’s best to start making his own plans now. Either you play the game or the game plays you.

 

[] FIFTY THREE

 

He goes slowly at first, hoping against hope that he might make it back to the surface without filling his bloodstream with expanding nitrogen bubbles that would kill him. Frequently he tries to equalise the pressure in his ears by pinching his nose and swallowing.

But the higher he goes, the faster he seems to go. The easing water pressure and the air-filled lungs seem to be pushing him toward the light.

He attempts a decompression stop at what he guesses to be halfway and feels that panic clawing its way into his chest. The urge to get to the surface, to fresh air and daylight, is almost impossible to suppress. The decompression stop lasts a minute, maybe a minute and a half, but he’s rising all the time, despite his attempts to stall the ascent. He’d have a weight belt and an air tank and a BCD with an adjustable level of buoyancy ordinarily with which he could alter and manipulate and attempt to maintain a hover for a designated spell and let his body adjust, let the nitrogen in his bloodstream normalise. Not this time.

The rest of the climb is one way and beyond his control, he surrenders to it and kicks away with jelly legs like a long-distance runner stumbling for the line.

When he breaks the surface the air is so crisp and fresh after the salty, silty mess he’s been pulling down, that he gags and chokes for a moment. The bright sun’s glare dazzles him after so long in the darkness.

There’s another coughing fit and then he heaves and vomits, coughing up all the crap he’s been breathing and swallowing for God knows how long. His throat feels like sandpaper, which, given all the silt and sand he must have sucked in, makes some sense. When he’s spat the last of the vomit from his lips, he kicks away from it as it floats there in the water like a slick and after a few meters, flips onto his back to float and catch his breath. His lungs burn and protest at the sudden influx of volume and purity, a change from the filthy rations they have been permitted.

Suddenly he flips back again and snaps his head around.

Lisa.

In his long fight to the surface he had been so focused, so delirious, that he had stopped thinking about her and whether she made it.

Had she been picked up by a passing boat? Had she panicked before she’d made it back? Perhaps the Spare Air had run out on her and her desperate breathing, so greedy for relief in her distress.

Surely if she had been picked up she would have made the boat wait for him too, if indeed she could communicate. He was sure that the air in the canister would have done the job. If not all the way back to the surface, it would have got her close enough to do the rest whilst holding her breath.

He could see nothing of note nearby, nothing useful on the horizon. Sea birds pitching and wheeling, a few whitecaps scattered across the dipping swell.

He turns in stages to scan the ocean, dividing it up like the hands of a clock, one, two, three, four. At nine he spots something black rolling in the water and swims to it but sees before he reaches it that it is a discarded BCD which he surmises must have been hers. He last saw his own slashed open and on the sea bed.

The hiss and splash of the water and the keening wails of seabirds cover the sound up at first but then he stops as it pushes through the noise. High pitched and sustained, unlike the staccato calls of the birds, he hears it twice before he lands on the answer. It’s a scream.

He sees the fingers of her hand across an expanse of waves and she is impossibly far away. They had been nose to nose beneath the surface not so long ago. But since then he had swum away, toward and over The Wall, and the currents will have done their work to drag them apart as well.

At first he thought she was screaming for help, her hand waving in desperation. But then as one wave picks him up and another drops her into a trough his line of sight is clearer and he sees that she is floating on the surface and waving at him. The scream is just the best way to get his attention.

He waves at her and they both begin to close the wide blue gulf between them.

When at last the gap is closed and they cling to each other she looks at him and says, ‘They left.’

‘Who? The bad guys? Good.’

‘The boat. The boat left. I thought they took names.’

‘I guess if those guys could get on board and split us up like that, a bribe or a threat wouldn’t be beyond them. Or maybe it’s just good old fashioned incompetence,’ says Campbell, his voice hoarse. ‘Maybe he counted everyone on at the beach and missed those two off when they came late.’

‘But someone would notice. Someone.’

‘Who knows? All the buzz of getting back from the dive, everyone busy stowing their gear away. Would you know who else was on that boat? It was busy.’

‘They’ll be back once they realise. They’ll be back for us.’

‘Let’s call that Plan B shall we? Besides, if they come back and those two are still there, I’d sooner not be rescued.’

‘What then? Just hope for someone else to turn up?’

’No. We swim.’

She looks around her at the rolling swell of the ocean and wonders if they are going to be left to pick a direction and hope for the best.

‘That way,’ Campbell announces and points over her head. We had the sun behind us when we headed out. That was two hours ago and it will have moved in the sky so we head back that way.’

‘But we’ve moved too since then. The swimming and the currents.’

‘Same basic area. We swim for a while and we’ll see the shore and then we can just head straight for it.

She offers no further resistance and they begin to swim for where they hope the shore will be. Buoyed up by the air trapped in their wetsuits it is a little easier and though the currents are pushing them east along the island, there is enough of the island left that they spot something after twenty minutes. In thirty it is clear enough that they can make out trees and buildings and they push through the shattering exhaustion and aim for beach.

They hit a sand bar in the shallows and take a rest before pushing on for the final leg. Dusk is fading away into evening now and the warmth in the air and water is turning chill.

‘Daniel,’ she says as they head back in for the last hundred yards.

‘Yeah?’

‘Why? Why did they do that?’

‘I don’t know. If I had to guess, I would say it was something to do with what I’ve been turning up at Scorpio. Maybe someone thinks that I know more than I should. All these dodgy companies, some sort of scam, some big pyramid scheme.’

She looks at him and he shrugs. ‘Crazy right? But here we are.’

When she says nothing he looks back at her and sees that the water on her cheeks is from the tears in her eyes and not the sea.

‘Lisa? You OK?’

She nods but then sees that’s ridiculous and shakes her head instead.

The water is shallow enough to walk now so they stagger onto the sand and collapse next to each other.

‘What is it?’ he says.

‘I have a confession to make.’

 

 

[]ACT III

 

 

[]FIFTY FOUR

 

He feels like he is back down there in the brutal churning jaws of the ocean at the wall, trapped and rolling and disoriented.

And then he’s back on the surface, clarity restored.

Of course she does.

Again those suppressed instincts that he should have trusted, that alarm bell sounding off before they got together and that night over dinner, before the mugging.

Was that part of it too, this whole charade? He began to question everything now. The drugs thing, this trip, the job itself even. What on earth had he got himself into?

‘I didn’t know,’ she says. ‘I didn’t know how far it would go. They just wanted to me to keep you close, because you were new and they needed to know what you were up to and what you knew.’

He nods dumbly and stares up at the darkening sky.

‘It seemed reasonable. Or, not too outrageous anyway. But then you asked me out and it seemed like saying no would have made it harder. And saying yes was easy. Would have been easy without the job I mean. It just got out of my control then and anyway, it wasn’t like a job, it was fun. I wanted to.’

‘If I had one joule of energy left in me right now, I’d get up and walk away,’ he says and she rolls her head to look at him, tears spilling down her face.

‘I’m so sorry. I had no idea what was happening Dan. I just thought I’d keep an eye on you, stay close. It was just part of the job.’

‘Yeah, well I’d say you might have lost the job.’ He points back out over the waves. ‘That right there is what you call a severance package.’

He chuckles darkly at his own joke for a moment, then falls silent again.

The sound of her sobbing rises above that of the surf and Campbell does nothing but listen. He feels hurt and vengeful, as though she somehow deserves this for what’s happened, as though she nearly killed them both.

Raising himself up on an elbow he looks at her. She has rolled on her side and gone foetal on the sand and she looks so small and wounded that his hardened heart yields a little.

‘It isn’t your fault,’ he says and his hand hovers over her shoulder a moment before he withdraws it.

She keeps weeping, those four words insufficient consolation. Or, he reflects, maybe it’s the fact that someone’s just tried to drown her that’s upsetting her. Rather than the guilt of having been unwittingly involved in something she can’t possibly have foreseen.

Could she? Campbell cannot be sure that she didn’t know what was coming for him but if she did she hid it phenomenally well. And the fact of their attempt to kill her should say something about what sort of role she might have had, or any value.

But he was barely through processing any of this. The attack was shocking enough and he could only imagine that the motivation was that he knew too much, had found all the information in those brochures and prospectuses that was supposed to be buried and made connections that were supposed to be invisible.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

But then if she had been detailed to watch over him – to whatever extent that brief ran, be it office or bedroom – the real question was why? Was every new employee subject to the same secret scrutiny? It was one thing to shadow someone or double-check their work whilst in a probationary period, but that’s not what she was saying. She’d been assigned to be closer to him than that. Close to him the person, not him the employee.

It was too clandestine, too cloak and dagger, even in the cut-throat world of finance and investments. For an outfit like Scorpio, would they really have the resources to pay someone to look over the new boy’s shoulder like that? He was an analyst too, not a decision-maker. He wasn’t placing trades or running money.

‘Who is they?’

‘What?’ she says after a sob.

‘They? Who is the “they” you were watching me for? What did they want to know?’

‘Giles. Whoever’s his boss. They just wanted to make sure you were working on the right things and not chasing after your own ideas. Giles said that we were too small to have someone going off-plan and that they hired you because they knew you were good and curious and sharp but they needed to keep that on course and focused.’

‘Giles.’

‘Yes. Pretty much everything ran through him.’

‘And he has a boss? Who’s that? Where is he?’

She sits up and wipes at her eyes. Shakes her head. ‘I never saw anyone else.’

‘Phone, email? Any sign of a chain of command?’

She thinks for a moment but it is clear that whatever she knows it is not very much. She has been given a limited brief and one way or another, she has delivered it. Delivered him.

‘It’s cold,’ he says and stands up. He reaches down to help her to her feet and she rises and then stands in front of him, head down, shoulders slumped.

She won’t ever know the struggle that plays out inside him, but the heart wins and he puts his arms around her and draws her close. He doesn’t want to be so emotional and impractical as to drop his guard at all now, but he knows that what happened was no hoax. She was lost and panicked and sinking to her death when he found her and stuffed the Spare Air into her mouth. She’s been drawn in and used just as surely as he has.

She stands limp and sags against him and he takes her arms and moves them up around his back where suddenly they take a firm hold and she stands and pulls tight against him.

There’s nothing he can find to say to her, no words of reassurance or forgiveness, no promise of safety. He does not know where to start with unravelling the mystery of this new horror or why after one previous brush with death and men who kill, he has come face to face with it again on the other side of the world.

They walk along the beach in the lowering dusk and stick close for warmth. There are hotels and rows of empty sun loungers but nothing they recognise. After a while they draw close to a fire with a couple of young men sitting round it sipping beers.

‘Evening,’ says one with a wave.

Campbell tells them the name of the hotel and asks directions as the two seated drinkers examine the washed up couple out walking in wetsuits.

‘We fell asleep down the beach. Too much sun,’ Campbell says, trying to head off a questioning he has not got the energy to deal with. He has started to notice a headache and nausea and wonders whether that speedy ascent has left him with the bends.

The drinkers nod a nod that says they don’t believe a word and that their own conclusion is much more sordid. They turn and point down the beach. ‘Keep going. About a hundred yards. They’ll want those wetsuits back.’

‘Thanks. Not sure they know they’re missing.’

’Sleep tight.’

They make the final stretch a touch faster, encouraged that they are now so close to what constitutes home.

‘We’ll get the receptionist to call the police and then we’ll lock ourselves in the room,’ he tells her.

From the shadows to the right comes a voice, deep and with the unmistakable accent of home.

‘Good plan,’ it says.

They turn and see a man emerge into the soft light from the deserted back lawn of the hotel. He is dressed in dark clothing and he holds a handgun levelled at them, with a long black suppressor attached.

‘Bad luck.

 

[]FIFTY FIVE

 

The man whose name Campbell would later learn was Rookes, wagged the gun barrel toward the shadows and Campbell took Lisa’s hand and led her there, amid palm trees and stacks of sun loungers.

‘You guys turning up like this – first things first, bravo! You cut someone adrift at the bottom of the ocean, you figure you’ve done your job. But you two… Anyway. Turning up like this, really makes me look bad.’

‘They were your guys?’ asks Campbell, though the gun pointed at him is pretty much all the answer he needs.

‘You really cannot get the staff. My predecessor made the mistake of being sloppy, so I figured maybe I should go that one step further. What if they actually make it back? I asked myself. Surely that’s impossible? But no, not impossible. Just unlikely. Then I came to collect your stuff from the room and saw the receipt for the dive gear and the Spare Air. And I thought, maybe it is worth hanging around. Just in case. Because if I’m in charge when something like that happens, well then I deserve all I get. So here I am.’

’What is all this? What’s it about?’ asks Campbell. He can feel Lisa’s hand shaking in his, either from the cold or the fear, probably both. ‘Scorpio?’

‘Scorpio,’ says Rookes, but he says it like he’s intrigued by the word. Like Campbell just gave him an answer rather than asked him a question.

Campbell looks at the evil lump of metal in Rookes’ hand, at the smooth cylinder screwed into the barrel. It wasn’t the first gun he’d seen, but there was no getting used to them. The one thing he couldn’t ignore about this one though, was that it hadn’t been fired yet. If he wanted them dead, what was the wait?

‘Well, I’m not going to do it here,’ Rookes says, reading his expression.

’The thing is, he wants you dead. I mean he has a hard on for wanting to see you dead. To see you die to be precise. So that leads me to two things; why? What did you do to him?’ Rookes counts off one finger, then raises another. ‘And second; would he pay extra to see it twice?’

‘If you need money, I can get you money.’

Rookes dismisses the notion with the merest frown. ‘Start with the first question. Tell me what you’ve got on him?’

‘Who?’

‘Who? How many other people do you have trying to kill you?’

‘Including you?’

Rookes smiles. ‘I’ve done nothing yet. Talking will keep it that way.’

‘But I don’t know who you mean. Who are you? What is all this? Is it Scorpio? Is it Lawson? What?’ Campbell’s temper is frayed with the exhaustion and the fear and either way, he’s not sure how he can really make things worse now.

‘My boss. Your nemesis. He’s been on you like shit on a blanket. Glued to velcro. You haven’t noticed anything weird of late?’

’Nothing but,’ says Campbell. ‘Why don’t you just tell me who you’re talking about?’

‘I just did.’

Campbell pauses. ‘You don’t know his name?’

‘He’s a cautious man.’

‘Wait.’ The penny is beginning to drop. ‘It’s him isn’t it?’

‘Posh guy, mid-fifties. Quite… establishment, you know? Likes tweed and the sound of his own voice.’

Jesus.’

‘The opposite.’

‘Daniel,’ Lisa’s voice is weak and scared. ‘What’s happening? Do you know what this is about?’

He nods slowly, uncertain. ‘I think so, but… It can’t…’

Rookes raises the gun into Campbell’s eye line. ‘Oh, yes it can.’

‘I thought he was dead.’

‘Not dead,’ says Rookes. ‘Just patient.’

 

*

 

Campbell gets into it, telling them about the gatecrasher at his party, the memory stick, the blackmail plot and the man behind it. He tells them how he engineered his escape and how he flipped the whole thing to backfire on the man who set it up, the man who had attempted to use the scam to enrich many of his criminal associates, and who had all suffered damage to their precious wealth and more precious pride as a result.

Lisa is open mouthed the whole time, her eyebrows rising at each new twist, until the final one when she suddenly feels sick. No wonder, she thinks, no wonder he refused to trust her.

Rookes looks genuinely impressed as he listens and nods his approval at the close.

‘Very nice job. I should have sent three guys.’

‘Does he know?’ Campbell asks suddenly. ‘Does he know your guys didn’t kill us?’

Rookes shakes his head.

‘Something you said earlier, you asked whether he’d pay to see it twice. Did he watch that?’

Rookes nods and smiles. ‘Some show.’

Campbell’s face falls as he suddenly realises that he has seen this man before, on the boat today. The bodyguard with the rich-looking guy with the smirk. Horner.

‘Like I said, he really has a thing for you. Seems to me like a real love-hate thing.’

‘Wonderful,’ says Lisa.

‘Except that it’s just a hate thing.’

Campbell nods. ‘Still, if he thinks I’m dead – we’re dead – then why not let us go? He’s got what he wants, I can give you what you want. And then we can disappear. Everyone wins.’

Rookes looks like he’s considering the merits of Campbell’s argument but he’s just a cat toying with its catch. Raising a paw, slamming it down.

‘If you’re appealing to my conscience… well, good luck with that. Otherwise, Mr Campbell, you should never look a gift horse in the mouth and you should never, ever pass up an advantage when it presents itself.

‘For the first time, I know more than he does, more than any of them. That’s got to be worth something.’

‘Whatever you think it is worth I can do. More,’ pleads Campbell. ‘Come on. What will it take?’

Rookes stares at the two of them, silent.

‘Her,’ says Campbell.

He feels her hand tighten and Rookes’ eyebrow curls.

‘Let her go. He wants me, not her. She’s not part of it.’

‘Oh, come on,’ says Rookes. ‘You don’t really believe that.’

 

[]FIFTY SIX

 

Michael Horner has hardly spent long preparing the simple pasta dish for his evening meal, but all the same the timing of Rookes’ phone call is irritatingly inconvenient and he’s being deliberately vague about his need to meet.

Rookes arrives after ten minutes and as Horner opens the front door to let him in Horner takes a few steps back and stares blank-faced and open-mouthed at what he is confronted with.

He sees the smile on Rookes’ face and the gun in his hand, and then he sees the young man and the young woman who died earlier that afternoon in a tragic, and well-planned diving accident.

Horner knows that it happened because he saw it but now they’re standing here in front of him, still wearing the wetsuits they were killed in, hands bound in front of them and looking terrified. The smile on Rookes face seems to tell him that the whole thing has been a hoax, elaborate and convincing but certainly not fatal for the two intended victims.

‘Rookes?’ he says.

‘First of all,’ begins Rookes, ‘my apologies. My guys were sent to do a job, and they didn’t deliver. Although to be fair to them, and as you saw, they did appear to have been fairly thorough.’

Horner nods, eyes never leaving Campbell.

‘But this guy-‘ Rookes jabs the suppressor at him. ‘-this guy is something else.’

‘That he is,’ agrees Horner.

‘Long story short, they made it back up and in to shore. Now I want to point out why this is a good thing.’

‘Go on.’

‘You remember how much you enjoyed watching him die first time?’ he says and Horner looks at him. ‘Now you get another go.’

Horner frowns for a moment and then spins on his heel, heading for the office. As he turns the handle to looks back at Rookes and speaks. ‘Uh, basement please. I think I need to make a couple of calls.’

Rookes nods and gestures at them with the gun toward the basement door. Campbell says quietly, without turning his head, ‘Why the basement?’

‘Probably wants to avoid getting any blood on his nice carpet.’

‘Whose blood Rookes? The man who let him down?’

‘Let’s not start this again.’

Campbell had tried reasoning with Rookes in the car as they drove here, talking constantly as Rookes watched them both in the rear view mirror.

‘Are you sure you’re not in trouble now?’ Campbell had said to him, ‘How long after they do me do you think you’ll be given? How long can you stay useful, eh Rookes? If you think you have another week on earth you’re every bit as dumb as Horner needs you to be. Congratulations on living down to his expectations.’

Rookes had lost his cool at that point, and shot Campell a look of cold murderous fury but here now, in Horner’s house, Campbell calculated that he had nothing left to lose.

‘Kill him Rookes. Kill him before he kills you.’

‘I may well do that,’ Rookes hissed back. ‘But it won’t be before he’s paid me everything I can squeeze out of him.’

‘There is no walking away from this. Not from him.’

‘Not for you there isn’t. Now shut up or I’ll make it worse than it needs to be.’

As he opens the door to the basement and ushers them through, the girl finally cracks and begins to sob. Campbell tries to comfort her, but the beckoning darkness at the foot of the stairs is too much.

Rookes cocks the pistol and tells her to move, hoping that the sound of the weapon being armed will scare her into compliance. But she’s frozen in fear now and has perhaps concluded that if she is to be killed, what threat is there here at the top of the stairs that is any worse than down there?

Rookes places a hand on Campbell’s left shoulder and reaches over his right shoulder with the gun levelled at the back of her head. He moves forward and rests the point of the suppressor at the nape of her neck and repeats his instruction to her to descend. He wants them both in front of him and he wants Campbell to see the gun and to see it pressed up against the crying girl that he seems to be so reluctantly attached to.

She takes a step forward and he pushes Campbell to follow her but he resists and stays put. Rookes pushes his shoulder to get him moving and after a moment, Campbell relents and Rookes feels his arm give as Campbell moves forward.

Then it happens. Two things at once. The shift in weight has him slightly off guard and off balance and Campbell suddenly moves against him and swings his head backward, sharp and fast toward Rookes’ face. At the same time, Campbell raises a heel from the floor and kicks at Rookes, aiming for his genitals.

It is a desperate act, and executed not without some force or expertise, but Rookes has honed his instincts and reactions and manages to move just enough, just in time, to avoid the worst.

Campbell’s head glances off his cheekbone and he sees stars for a moment. The heel hits his knee on the way up, taking momentum from the blow so that when it finds its target, does not achieve the damage or shock that it might have.

Rookes attempts to shift himself to the side, out of the way of Campbell’s attack, but the tangled legs and the backward momentum of the other man mean that Campbell can sense the direction of Rookes’ attempted evasion.

He keeps coming, trying to fall backward onto Rookes, trying to overwhelm him with his weight and bulk and Rookes stumbles and twists as he tries to keep his feet. Campbell is thrusting backward, trying hard to get an advantage but then feels Rookes’ arm move from his shoulder to around his throat and with a violent wrench of his torso, Rookes has flipped him down onto the floor and then he feels a hard blow to the back of his neck and then nothing.

 

[] FIFTY SEVEN

 

When he comes to, the room is full.

Lisa is silent again and sits staring at the concrete floor of the basement. There is a neon strip light and walls of exposed brick. They are surrounded by shelving and storage of the most innocuous kind – pots of paint, boxes of cleaning products. Did he expect some sort of torture chamber? Would that have been any worse?

Horner and Rookes are here and leaning against the wall, glaring at him are the two men from the boat, no doubt in some sort of trouble for not having killed him as instructed.

There is a sharp-suited Slavic-looking man with a thin nose and a sinister smile and next to him a short, stockily built oriental man. Thai or Malaysian Campbell guesses. Seated and looking almost as frightened as Campbell feels is an overweight man with a large birthmark covering part of his face. A port-wine stain is what they’re called he thinks and wonders at the mind’s ability to become so preoccupied with something so banal and irrelevant in the face of such peril.

His face is cold and wet and he realises that the reason he is awake now is because he’s had cold water thrown on him.

He blows the streaming water from his nose and mouth in a spray and looks up. ‘Thank God for the wetsuit.’

Rookes grins in spite of himself and looks at Horner who is scowling down at him, holding an empty jug.

‘Mr Hogg,’ says Horner.

The man with the birthmark looks up.

‘You’ve been complaining about the workload. How would you like an assistant?’

Hogg says nothing and stays focused on Horner.

‘Good. Daniel here will be on hand to help with all the parts you either don’t understand or don’t want to deal with. Best not to incriminate yourself when we have someone else for that.’

Hogg looks at Campbell and nods. ‘OK.’

‘Daniel. Would you care to enlighten everyone as to what is happening? Have you figured it out yet?’

‘Well,’ Campbell sits up and rubs the back of his neck, feels his head swim. ‘Today’s helped clear a few things up. I was wondering if I’d really come across something foul. And here you are.’

‘Good to finally make your acquaintance.’

‘I wish I could say the same.’

’And you Lisa. Worth every penny my dear. Good to see that my recruitment profile was so well followed.’

She stares at Horner, wounded and afraid, like she’s only just beginning to understand the trap she has been led into. This is the man in ultimate charge, the man who has instructed through Lawson that she be tasked with shadowing Campbell so closely. How willingly she had agreed to it, how easily duped. She feels sick the way she and Daniel have become so close, so intimate, all predicated on a lie, contrived and directed from afar.

‘She doesn’t know anything,’ says Campbell.

‘Is that what she told you?’ says Horner with a raised eyebrow. He sighs, loud and heavy. ‘Well how about this: perhaps I will explain the simple concept of a honey trap, and then you can walk her through the basics of fractional reserve banking and… well – everything else you’d care to share.’

Honey trap. He looks at her and her eyes drop to the floor. Is Horner bluffing? Trying to get under his skin? Certainly it’s precisely the type of tactic he would expect but it doesn’t fit with the confession she offered him. And surely she wouldn’t have gone as far as she had with him, romantically, sexually, unless she’d gone outside the watching remit she described to him.

No. He looked at Horner and the smug curl of his lip like a hook or a barb. He was a man that would say precisely what he needed to say, whenever he needed to say it, and to whoever he needed to say it to.

Campbell had shared things with Lisa; time and tenderness and more of himself than he’d let anyone see in a long time. They had been through much together; the mugging, the diving attack and being left stranded and adrift by the boat.

Yet here she was, silent where the protest of innocence should be and staring at her feet.

‘No? No need to elaborate I suppose, you seem to have grasped the idea of the honey trap,’ Horner says as he casts an admiring glance at her. ‘Go on then Daniel. Tell her. Explain it.’

‘It seems like you have everything figured out,’ Campbell says, trying to fix on Horner, if only not to look at her. Her and her downcast eyes.

‘Have you though? That’s what I’m wondering. Honestly, I’d like to know, because if you’ve put it together, you are the only person who knows how it works except me.’

Campbell looks around the room at the fat man with the large birthmark, and the sinewy guys in tight black t-shirts.

‘Come on, don’t let me down now. Not now,’ Horner hisses at him. ‘You were headhunted for the job Daniel, and it wasn’t for your charm or your repartee.’

‘Fuck you.’

‘Like I said.’

He sees her head lift then and her expression is strained and hard to read. There’s fear there and confusion and plenty of both. But Campbell thinks he sees guilt and a certain pleading in the eyes, not unlike the look she gave him so many feet beneath the waves, in every sense out of their depth.

He looks around the room. They are all looking at him.

‘A bank takes money in and lends it out,’ he begins. ‘It lends it for interest at a rate higher than the interest it pays depositors. But it doesn’t lend everything it takes in, dollar for dollar, pound for pound. It is required to keep some money back for when those depositors want to make withdrawals. But since they are looking for a rate of return, the chances are, most of them won’t take it out. Not all at once.

‘So you can lend out money and only need to keep a certain proportion of it handy. Technically if you lend it to someone who then deposits that money back with you, you’ve just increased the deposits you hold, even though it is the same money. So then you’ve expanded the balance sheet of your bank and grown its assets.’

He looks up and around the room at everyone staring back and listening. ‘You can also, if you are clever, start reclassifying some of those loans you've made as assets themselves - you expect to get them all back with interest after all. So again you expand the balance sheet, you increase the asset base of your bank. Against which you can continue to lend. The bigger your capital, the more you can lend. And so on. Or maybe to put it another way, if you have say, one million pounds deposited in your bank, and the regulations require that you have a ratio of 10% of deposits compared to loans, you can now lend another 9 million pounds, even though you only hold one million.'

Lisa shakes her head, though he cannot tell if she is confused about what he is explaining, or why.

‘Why would someone borrow money off you just to deposit it at a lower rate than they are paying you? That makes no sense.’

‘Sure. You wouldn’t do that. You’d invest it in your business. Buy a new JCB, or re-stock your warehouse or employ some new staff.’

She’s shaking her head again. Horner watches him, his eyes flitting to the implacable expressions of Hari and Dusan and the hired muscle in the room, the computer guy who looks vaguely interested.

‘Unless of course you don’t do things like that. And you actually own the businesses that you are lending the money to. Then you are in control of all of it and are manipulating the whole process for one purpose…’ he opens his hands and moves them up and apart, like he’s holding an inflating balloon.

Horner’s thin smile is broad and proud.

‘Creating money,’ says Hogg.

‘The nine million comes back and now you have ten million.’

‘So you can lend ninety million,’ says Hogg, though it’s not clear if it is a question.

‘A latter day Charles Ponzi no less,’ says Campbell as he looks at Horner.

‘Ponzi had nothing on this. Ponzi needed suckers to pump in money, and to believe him when he paid them bits of their own money back to them and told them it was interest.’

‘Bernie Madoff then. Take your pick.’

He snorts dismissively, smug and arrogant. ‘No Daniel. It’s infinitely better than that and you know it. They didn’t have banks, they had pyramids. Please give credit where it is due.’

‘That seems to be your trick.’

‘Very droll.’

‘I’m sorry. Who is Charles and was he a ponce or a pharaoh?’ asks the security guy Rookes.

‘Charles Ponzi was a guy who invented a fraud, a pyramid scheme. He got people to invest their money with him, then gave them some back and told them it was their returns, enough that it seemed like great performance and they were all happy. Soon enough other people wanted a piece of the action and the great returns Ponzi seemed to be getting for his investors. So he had more money coming in to pay out the fake returns to other people in the scheme. He’d get new people in to pay the last lot and all the while he was stealing the rest of it for himself. Madoff did much the same sort of thing. Only more. Lots more.’

‘So who are the idiots giving you their money?’ asks Rookes. ‘I hope it’s not these guys,’ he tilts his head to Hari and Dusan, ‘And all the others you’re trying to hide from. Aren’t they pissed off with you enough already?’

From the thunderous expression that darkens Horner’s face like a storm-front, it appears that Rookes knows a little more than he is supposed to.

‘No, there are none of those here,’ says Campbell. ‘There are no innocent retired couples handing him the life-savings or the grandchildren’s college fund. There’s no drug lord with a pile of cash to turn over. He’s conjured it all up from almost nothing. He’s invented a bank with some seed capital from somewhere.’

‘A bank? How do you invent a bank?’ says Lisa, incredulous.

‘Easier than you’d think. And it isn’t what you’re picturing either, with a giant walk-in safe and a marble lobby, or offices over ten floors. More likely it’s a plaque on a wall on a shack down the road. A hundred other plaques next to it. You’ve been here long enough now Lisa, does this look like the type of place where hundreds of large companies do business? Banks and hedge funds and trust corporations?’

She shakes her head. ‘More hotels than banks. It’s a tiny little holiday island.’

He starts to nod but then stops and starts to shake his head. ‘Only at first glance. There are almost three hundred banks in the Cayman Islands. Three hundred. It is the fifth largest banking centre in the world. But only about fifty five thousand people live here – bit less than Bognor Regis. Hedge funds: there are more than ten thousand here I think.’

‘Ten…?’ Again, Hogg with the half statement, half question.

Campbell nods. ‘And you’ve got all the other accountancy firms and auditors and lawyers that go with them, lots of them all plugged in to it, feeding off it. Front companies, anonymity and low tax rates, it’s where the hot money comes to hide.’

Rookes looks at his two colleagues in black and raises eyebrows. ‘I thought we were the scumbags here. Starting to feel like the good guy.’

‘All relative,’ says Campbell.

‘A network of fake companies, a fake bank. So the money’s fake too… right?’ Lisa asks.

‘How would you know? It’s all just numbers on a screen. There’s no real, physical cash anywhere, no notes printed up by the bank. You ever get paid in notes for your salary at any job? Of course you haven’t. All money now is basically electronic. The plastic in your wallet hooks into the network and moves numbers from one screen to another. Move it around enough and you can make it look real enough and legitimate enough.’

‘The point is,’ Horner cuts in, ‘if you make it look real, well, perception is reality isn’t it?’

‘But it isn’t real and it doesn’t look real.’ Lisa has found her voice it seems, or perhaps she’s just trying to let Campbell know that she’s not still on Horner’s payroll by challenging the man. ’None of these companies actually do anything do they? They don’t make anything or provide any tangible goods or services. They’re an illusion. Soon enough someone will see that and the whole thing will collapse.’

Horner still has a smug smile on his face. ‘Perhaps, yes.’

‘But they’ve done their job. They were there to be loaned to and then to deposit that money back again. Pump things up.’

Horner bobs his head in a way that says Campbell hasn’t got it all quite yet.

He looks at the man for a moment longer, then at Lisa and recalls her words, the whole thing will collapse, and the look on Horner’s face when she said it.

‘It’s supposed to collapse,’ Campbell says with widening eyes.

The smile on Horner’s face gets wider and smugger than Campbell thought possible.

 

[] FIFTY EIGHT

 

Giles Lawson has scarcely seen the sunshine and is barely even aware of that fact. Since they touched down and he dropped Campbell and Lisa at the hotel, he has been as busy as he’s ever been working this job.

Horner gave him a five minute run-down of what he was required to do and told him not to show up again for 24 hours, at which point he wanted to be told that the task was complete.

Lawson had done the sums and negotiated with himself that 24 hours was more than enough to complete that job twice over and have time to spare. Since he only intended to do the job once, he would be fine to pursue some of his own interests.

That would have to wait. Horner wanted the business dealt with via New York and London and that meant using the daylight hours to hit a terminal and the phones and start finding people that were willing to sell him what he needed.

London was harder to find interest, possibly due to the lateness of the day and the proximity of a wine bar to most of the traders he spoke to who had probably done their target for the day anyway, or maybe they just had risk managers and compliance officers all over them.

It was still early in the day for the US market though and he got things happening in New York and Chicago with people keen to get deals on the books for the day and feel like lunch was paid for before they called the restaurant.

Several fought him on the price but he figured that what Horner wanted it for, a few percentage points was worth giving up, so long as his willingness to pay didn’t look too obvious.

Horner had been keen to ensure that the deals were spread around enough that they would not arouse suspicion with market makers or traders talking to each other and for the most part Lawson was careful to keep the deals spread thin but he also knew that doing this for a day or two would not be enough to be flagged anywhere, not on this scale. It was too small given the size of the market, so he kept the calls going, kept searching for issuers to offer him terms and kept striking deals until he’d gone 20% past the target Horner had set just to see if there was a way to get more than brusqueness from the man and to see whether that might mean a bigger pay-packet when the job was done.

But what he was buying could not be bought by individuals; only institutions. Otherwise he’d have enjoyed taking stakes himself as he began to picture how it would play out. As it was, he would need to find something to make up for it.

He found a hotel with a casino and a table to play for a few hours and had achieved two startling wins in succession; not only had he managed huge back to back wins at the blackjack table, but he’d also stood and walked away in a winning position, $120,000 in his pocket. Walking away was arguably the bigger victory for Lawson.

That good fortune and good sense had lasted with him all the way to the foot of the casino steps when he’d been offered the chance to play a proper game of cards.

A car ride, a labyrinthine set of corridors and a plush hotel suite later and every dollar was back in play.

There were a half dozen faces around the table, all implacable and unreadable when the cards were dealt, smiles and warmth in between hands.

But now it was dark outside and inside the room lights were going out for Lawson fast. The $120,000 was gone and he was being offered a line of credit, the terms for which were not outlined but would almost certainly not be market competitive.

‘I think perhaps I should bow out here,’ he says though another part of him stays desperate to ignore his survival instinct and snatch the offered loan.

‘Not my day,’ he says and slides his chair out to stand.

There’s a hand on his shoulder before he is fully upright and he turns to see the man who drove him here. He is still smiling, still friendly and he ushers Lawson toward the selection of food and drink laid out in the adjoining room of the suite.

‘You’ve been playing hours,’ says the man. ‘Please enjoy something. At your leisure.’

Lawson sees the clock on the wall and sees that the man is not wrong. It is approaching midnight and cannot remember when he last ate. The scotch looks inviting too; single malt, 18 years old and just the thing to take the edge off a hundred and twenty grand blowout.

 

[]FIFTY NINE

 

Rookes clears his throat to speak again, but he sees Dusan stand and defers to the Croatian.

Supposed to collapse, is what he said.’ Dusan is pointing at Campbell but looking at Horner.

‘He did.’

Dusan nods slowly, uncertain what Horner’s trying to do, either in the course of this exchange or the wider plan.

‘How exactly,’ Hari says, his hand on Dusan’s shoulder, ‘does that make me not gut you? Right now, I’m thinking I just get that done before I’m too angry to enjoy it. Make a noose for you with your own intestines.’

Horner feigns shock at the violence of the threat and Campbell, weak and nauseous though he is – from the too-fast ascent from the water or from the blow to the neck – he still wants to stand up and pound the look off the man’s face.

‘Things collapse,’ says Dusan. ‘That’s bad. When is that not bad?’

‘When you have insurance.’ Campbell replies.

Horner looks at Campbell as he stands slowly and smiles at him for answering the question so succinctly.

‘Wonderful,’ he says, hands open and gesturing at Campbell as though he’s just won something by getting it right.

‘Daniel has it spot on. Nice to see he’s sharper than everyone else here, even after we tried to kill him. Almost makes me glad your goons failed.’

Rookes wags a finger at the sheepish looking pair who frown and watch their shoes. They don’t know they’re dead yet but they are and by the look Horner gives them, he can see it will be soon.

‘So, the hour is late and tomorrow there is much to do. Rookes, take Daniel here with Caspar and get them acquainted. Best they get some sleep before they get at it in the morning.’

Campbell cannot stop the laugh escaping him and he doesn’t try to.

’Something funny?’ says Horner.

‘I cannot begin to explain to you just how much you can go and fuck yourself. There’s no chance. Just none.’

Horner says nothing but raises his eyes at Rookes who spares no time in pulling out his handgun and levelling it at Campbell’s temple.

‘Go on then. You’ve been pointing that thing at me for hours, just get on with it.’ Campbell is looking Rookes in the eye when he says it. He’s so weary now that he thinks he might even mean it.

Rookes thinks for a moment then swings the gun around to point it at Lisa. He sees something flash in Campbell’s eyes for the briefest moment.

‘How about now? You want to say something now?’

There is a heartbeat or two when Campbell considers whether to call their bluff and pretend that her betrayal has cost her his loyalty but he does not get as far as making a decision.

He sees Dusan move for the inside of his jacket and a burst of panic explodes in his chest and the adrenaline slows everything all the way down.

He sees the fluid natural motion of the hand slip in and back out, the snub nose pistol in Dusan’s hand. Lisa is looking right at Campbell, oblivious to what is happening out of her eyeline.

Dusan extends his arm, levels the jet black steel at her head and Campbell watches the muscles in his forearm tighten, sees each sinew slide and strain under the skin, sees his knuckles whiten as the finger around the trigger squeezes.

His eyes are closed when he hears the shot, the sound of which smashes off the walls of the basement, loud and angry. He hears a popping, bursting sound that tears at his guts which is followed by something liquid that glugs and splashes and he drops to the ground with a shout of wild, uncontained anguish.

He screws his eyes closed and he shouts, trying to push it all back and away, trying to stop all the sensory overload that is assailing him. He can hear those sounds again in his head like some hideous echo, glug and splash. And behind his closed eyes he sees her head and a dozen ways that it might have burst under the point blank gunshot impact.

There are voices raised and angry curses but he cannot pick out words or recognise who is saying what beyond the din of his own deafening horror.

‘Daniel,’ Horner is saying and he is clapping a hand on his shoulder. ‘Daniel!’

He flails an arm in Horner’s direction and howls in fury, a primal cry from deep in his chest. He springs up and clamps a hand around Horner’s throat and thrusts him across the floor toward the wall, the other man startled and off guard.

Rookes and his men move fast but Campbell has Horner pinned to the wall and both hands tight on his neck now, eyes wild and nostrils flared in unchecked rage.

He can feel hands on him, heavy and powerful as they try to prise him off Horner but he can see the skin of Horner’s face begin to darken and a flicker of genuine fear in his eyes so he holds on tighter and tries to shake them off.

It is not the sound of Rookes or his men shouting at him that breaks the trance but someone else.

He is not certain at first and wonders if it is in his mind, or if she is haunting him already but he cannot mistake the sound of Lisa’s voice as she sobs loudly and then shrieks in fear.

He turns finally to look and sees that Dusan has grabbed a fistful of her hair and is pressing the handgun to her head. The tears are streaked across her face and the look of abject terror is every bit as real as Campbell’s own.

‘I don’t miss twice,’ he says and Campbell lets Rookes pull him away from the choking Horner as he stares at her and at the ruptured paint pot on the shelf behind her and the splash of thick white paint across the floor, the liquid still dribbling from the gaping hole in the side of the pot where the bullet has torn it open.

 

[]SIXTY

 

They throw a mattress on the floor and toss him a blanket.

’Sleep,’ they tell him and he is left staring at the closed door and just Hogg for company.

‘Take a shower if you want,’ says Hogg pointing toward the bathroom. ‘I guess we’ll get at it in the morning. I’ll take you through everything.’

‘Why not now?’ Campbell says, looking the other man in the eye.

Hogg shrugs. ‘Because I’m tired and I could do with getting my head down before it all starts again.’

‘Boo hoo,’ Campbell shoots back. ‘I’ve been killed once today and those fuckers are shooting off guns. I’d like to get this figured out.’

‘You might look dead but you whine just fine. Get under the shower and stick some clothes on.’

Campbell stares back a moment and then complies, jumping into clean shorts and an oversize t-shirt from Hogg’s pile of fresh laundry.

‘So what’s the deal then?’ Campbell begins as he sits next to Hogg at the workstation. There are two PCs, powerful judging by the noisy humming sound coming from the processors and fans, and there is a Bloomberg terminal too. It is a slightly old-fashioned looking machine, clunky black keyboard some bright green and yellow keys and a screen that lacks the slick graphics of the machine next to it. But Campbell knows from experience that this is essential kit for any trader or analyst and the vast wealth of real-time financial data available through the network it supports is mind boggling.

‘Well,’ Hogg begins, ‘You sort of had the basics of it earlier so I can begin from the start or fill in the blanks.’

‘No. With you. What’s your deal?’

Hogg pauses and returns Campbell’s gaze. ‘I guess you’d say I’m sort of the architect, or the builder maybe. I built the whole thing from Horner’s spec. I guess that makes him the architect. But then it was fairly vague. I’ve really designed and built it…’

His rambling words trail off as he watches Campbell shaking his head.

‘Those guys I get. Horner, doing his twirly-moustache thing, wanting everyone to know how smart and evil he is, like some sort of chinless Moriarty. The hired muscle there, the two guys lurking in the background looking like they’ve not decided who they’re going to kill and in what order. They scare me, all of them. You though…’ again Campbell is shaking his head.

‘What, you were expecting a hacker that looks like Jason Statham?’

‘I don’t know. You don’t fit, either way. Your eyes. You look like Lisa did earlier, way too deep and no idea what to do about it.’

‘Whatever.’

‘Yeah, you say that like you really want to believe it, like you’re making yourself believe it. But who are you kidding?’

‘You want to do the run through now, we do it now. You want to sleep first, sleep. Otherwise, stop wasting your breath.’

‘When did you realise you’d bitten off more than you could chew? When the muscle showed up? Maybe Horner took a while to let the mask slip, maybe you just took the job thinking it would be easy money and you didn’t do your due diligence?’

‘I’m fine here Campbell. Don’t worry about me.’

‘Oh, OK. You’re in control are you? That why they keep you locked up in a rabbit hutch, little bunny?’

‘When the job’s done I’m gone pal. You’re the one they tried to kill,’ Hogg snaps, his temper fraying.

Campbell’s nodding. ‘Right on both counts. You are gone when they’re done with you. How are you going to cope when they dump you in the ocean?’

Hogg says nothing but his eyes are fixed on Campbell, blazing with anger. He stares right back, wondering whether Hogg is angry at being challenged or at being forced to confront a truth he’s been ignoring.

‘Come on Hogg. Open your eyes man. You’re dead. You were when you took the job. You think you’re just going to walk out of all this? You can’t even walk out of this room without permission.’

‘Hell with you. Worry about yourself. He obviously has a thing for you. He doesn’t give a damn about me.’

‘Exactly.’

‘You’ll say anything right now. I’m the one with the money in the bank.’

‘Really? Your bank account is it? Your own?’

‘Yes.’

‘You set it up yourself?’

Pause. ‘I didn’t have a Cayman account.’

‘They set it all up for you?’

He nods.

‘OK. Got all the paperwork and the cards? Sole access?’

Pause. ‘Horner said he wanted a measure of security so that I wouldn’t just route cash to myself and disappear.’

Campbell nods.

‘Spent much?’

‘Some.’

‘Some? Like what? A new-Rolex-some? Or a candy-bar-from-the-vending-machine-some?’

Some,’ he snaps, his anger flaring at Campbell’s prodding tone.

‘They’ll never let you have it and they’ll never let you leave. That money no more belongs to you than it does to me.’

He’s staring at the floor. ‘Fuck them and fuck you,’ Hogg says, equal parts misery and anger.

Campbell nods again. ‘Pretty much.’

They sit a long time in silence, Campbell wanting to press Hogg some more but wondering whether it is best just to let the silence do that job. Eventually Hogg speaks.

‘What do you think happens next? We form a pact, steal their guns and escape? You’ve already lost Campbell.’ He looks up and meets his eyes. ‘Why would I join forces with someone who’s lost?’

Campbell sees that the argument is over, at least for now, and shrugs then lets his shoulders drop. But he cannot resist the last word, if just to make himself feel like he’s not surrendered yet, even if this man has.

‘Solidarity?’

 

[]SIXTY ONE

 

Hogg is up and at the terminal when Campbell wakes and he wonders whether the keys are being hit a little harder and noisier than usual. He sits and checks the time, sees that he has been permitted to sleep until 6.30am, which means he has around 4 hours sleep to operate on after the exertions of the previous day and the jet lag that’s lingering. It will have to do.

He is cheered momentarily by the fact that though he feels tired and sore from what has happened to him, he does not have any of the tell-tale signs of decompression sickness. The ascent to the surface with nothing but the heavy air tank strapped to him with the weight belt must have been slow enough without the assistance of the Buoyancy Control Device to avert it.

‘Shall we get started then’ Hogg says without taking his eyes from the screen.

‘No juice or pastries?’

‘Funnily enough,’ says Hogg and Campbell braces for the sarcasm that doesn’t come. Instead Hogg points across the room to the table where a jug of fresh juice and a box of pastries sits.

‘Room service? These really are gentlemen thugs.’

From the angle on the floor he can see Hogg’s profile and watches the big man crack a smile and fold creases in the auburn skin of the birthmark.

He gathers a glass of juice and a large fresh Danish and pulls up a seat.

’They’ll be back with coffee soon,’ says Hogg. ‘I ordered for you.’

‘Thanks. What did you order for me?’

‘Two.’

‘Two coffees? My favourite.’

’Try to keep the crumbs off the keys.’

‘You know Caspar, after the near-drowning, near-shooting and actual pistol-whipping yesterday, four hours doesn’t seem like quite enough sleep. But you still seem to be in a worse mood than me. Why is that?’

‘Because I’ve heard you moan about all that so many times I’m beginning to think it happened to me.’

‘Hang in there big guy, it will.’

Finally Hogg makes eye contact and the fire in his eyes dances a long time before it fades. Then he just looks sad and can’t sustain the fury.

‘From the top then. Horner’s new scam. Talk me through it,’ says Campbell. He feels oddly upbeat as he gets through his breakfast. Perhaps it is a natural euphoria from surviving a near death experience, or the relief of having all his paranoia from recent weeks confirmed and discovering he’s not deluded, or maybe he’s just high from the exhaustion and lack of sleep. He wonders how long it will take for Hogg to squash it.

Hogg looks for a moment like he’s running through a dozen different responses from angry to indifferent, desperate to defiant, but it passes and he turns back to the screens.

‘Everyone on Horner’s list of friends, associates, whoever they are, they all get an anonymised ID and we’re in contact with them all,’ he begins. ‘We’ve communicated enough details and instructions to them that they know what to buy and when to buy it and we supply the capital via the bank so they don’t need to risk their own money. We’ve moved the capital around like you said yesterday, repackaged it, moved it between the shell companies and made it look as though they’re all real operating outfits with brief trading histories. When they trade the shares, they’ll buy in concert, inflate the share price because they’re small volume these stocks, but high demand that drives up the price. Then they sell, and take the profits.’

‘Who’s going to buy this crap off them?’

‘Who cares? Someone sees the share prices spiking and wants in maybe. If not, the bank steps in.’

‘Why not just send them the cash direct from the bank?’

‘Not enough layers. It has to look at least vaguely legitimate. Just creating the money and handing it over to a random list of suspicious characters is the reddest of flags, no? At least create the semblance of transactional market activity and try to cover the tracks. Besides, if they sell shares into the market they have legit cash from legit sources, rather than from the bank. Then the buyer finds they’re stuck with crap and either dumps it at a loss to some other mug, or they write it off as a bad deal. Bigger losses are made every minute of every day.’

‘Rewind for me,’ says Campbell finishing the juice and sending the last of the Danish after it. ‘Stop me if I’m wrong anywhere. Horner has somehow got himself a banking licence – bribery, extortion, Rookes and his goons kidnapping someone’s daughter, whatever it was – and uses some seed capital from somewhere, probably his own money, to set it up. Then he creates a series of shell companies… Seven Mile Solutions, Bodden Ventures, Barracuda Trading. Wait – that’s where the names are all from. Seven Mile Beach? Bodden was the guy that founded the Caymans right? OK, so I get that now.’

‘Some were random, like Orbit Capital and Forward Solutions, and some he came up with just staring out the window.’

‘So he sets up the shell companies and lends money to them from his bank. Which one’s the bank?’

‘Icarus Financial.’

Campbell begins to slowly shake his head. ‘Which will soar too high and then crash back to earth. Of course. So then the money comes back in as deposits, meaning more lending. Then the layering – the companies all buy each other’s shares, or issue debt to each other. Make it look as though there are more assets on balance sheets, a trading pattern and history.’

Hogg is nodding and pouring himself another juice, tops up Campbell’s glass.

‘And then…?’

‘And then get everyone in place to buy their allocation, sell it again and make their money. All his friends get rich.’

‘Friends huh? He told you that.’

‘Not so much.’

‘Seem like the sort of guy has a lot of friends?’

Hogg shakes his head. ‘Seems like the kind of guy that might try to buy friends though.’

‘Kind of,’ says Campbell. ‘How much of this did he tell you and how much have you worked out for yourself?’

‘He tries to limit the information but I’ve put so much of this in place it’s impossible to not figure most of it. Only thing I can’t grasp is who these guys are.’ He is pointing at the list of anonymised IDs listed on screen.

‘Let’s just say he owes them all an apology.’

‘Why?’

Campbell raises an eyebrow. ‘You want to hear a story about Michael Horner?’

 

[]SIXTY TWO

 

‘A few years ago, I’d thrown a housewarming party and this guy turns up, total stranger. First I knew was when I heard this awful sound of breaking glass and he was lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen and a wine glass in his neck, like he’d fallen on it. Big spike, right in the throat. Anyway, not long after that I found a little USB memory stick hidden away beneath the oven. I check it but what’s on there doesn’t make much sense until I see this thing in the local paper about a break-in and the names match. So I figure; industrial espionage. But I can’t understand what it is doing in the kitchen, until a lot of people come looking for it and they all seem very upset that I’ve seen it.

Hogg looks at the door and the departed goons. ‘Those guys?’

’No, no. Nothing to do with this lot. But after a long time and a lot of running scared it turns out that Horner was behind the whole thing. Some big scam to rig a few foreign aid contracts – you know, where western governments help developing nations with things like infrastructure? Anyway, by that stage, I thought the only way to stop Horner coming after me was to get someone to go after him. He’d set it up so that a lot of his contacts and associates – we aren’t talking about golfing buddies here – would profit too. When it went the other way, they were upset.’

‘And here he is.’

‘And here he is. Same shit, different day.’

‘Only this time, he’s not taking the risk of trying to influence something, he’s just making the whole thing up.’

‘That’s what it looks like. The whole thing is smoke and mirrors. The illusionist gets everyone believing what they’re seeing until he pulls the sheet away and there’s nothing there. Never was.’

Hogg sips at his coffee and looks back at his screens. ‘And if he makes them all some money like he was supposed to, he figures they’ll forget about the original mess.’

Campbell nods. ‘Money talks. Specifically money says, “sorry about that old boy, let’s just forget the whole thing.” And I guess, if there’s enough money talking, they will forget.’

‘Maybe, maybe not,’ Hogg says looking distant.

‘These guys are all signed up though right? Whoever they are?’ he says pointing at the ID list.

‘Yes,’ replies Hogg. ‘But I don’t know if that means all is forgiven. What if they’re just playing along to get the money and then…’

’Sure,’ Campbell picks up his train of thought. ‘For some of these scumbags it won’t just be about the money they lost. If they lost face too, then that will hurt. They’ll want payback for that as well.’

Hogg nods, sips coffee. ‘And the idea that Horner somehow emerges from the shadows to grant them some compensation… like he’s giving them the opportunity to forgive him. With all the arrogance that would befit the man.’

‘Good to see this all hasn’t passed you by,’ says Campbell, wondering if Hogg’s refusal to even consider cooperation last night was shifting in the cold light of day.

‘But that’s just it. They haven’t forgiven him. I mean, I can’t say all of them. But when the Malaysian and the guy in the suit turned up they had someone with them. Nasty looking guy, raging angry at Horner. He didn’t care a bit about the money, he just wanted blood.’

‘Christ,’ says Campbell, shocked to hear that Horner’s plan had already shown signs of weakness. ‘Where’s he now?’

Hogg shrugs. ‘Where they tried to leave you I would guess. The guy in the suit shot him.’

Campbell frowns. ‘They brought him along to see Horner and then shot him?’

‘Shot him down right there in his office. A demonstration of will I suppose. They wanted Horner to know that they wanted their money and how far they were willing to go to make sure it got done.’

Campbell ponders that for a while, sipping at his cooling coffee. Seeing them all in that basement, Campbell had assumed they were all part of the plan. Rookes was Horner’s man, no question of that, and the muscle were entirely disposable. Having failed with him and Lisa, having seen and done what they had at Rookes’ order, there was no chance they’d be allowed to walk away.

But he’d seen Hari and Dusan standing apart and watching it all play out and now he saw why. They weren’t part of it; they were one of the names on the list. They had come to make sure Horner got it right and to show him, with the execution of the man who wanted revenge, that Horner was under their protection. But protection could mean a lot of things. What Horner was being shown he needed to be protected from was right there in the room with him, watching every move.

‘He’s dead too.’

‘What?’ says Hogg, frowning at Campbell. ‘That’s what I said. They shot him and now he’s gone.’

’No, not him. He was a prop for the act. Horner I mean. Horner’s dead. As soon as this is done and Hari and Dusan get paid, they’ll kill him.’

‘You think?’

‘Why else come here? Why else track him down and get past all his precautions? That will have taken time and effort, money. They want paid and they want pride. Everything that was taken from them, repaid with interest.’

‘I guess.’

’And you know what that means for us right?’

Hogg does but he doesn’t want to say so. ‘Means we have work to do.’

 

*

 

By mid-afternoon Hogg has run him through enough of the mechanics of the process that he knows which parts he’ll be taking on and exactly how that will leave a trail of transactions on various trading platforms with his fingerprints on.

He can’t fault Horner’s thinking. By the time it collapses there will be so many things pointing at Campbell – all the notes and research at Scorpio, all the meetings he’s attended, all the deals he’s placed – that he’ll be the obvious fall guy; the patsy for anyone that comes looking for a perpetrator of yet another financial crime.

Horner’s name is nowhere in any of it of course, and whatever he stands to make will no doubt be routed and recycled through any number of shell corporations and trusts that it would be impossible to track.

Campbell wonders about Scorpio though. There are people there who will be tainted and though he has already concluded that Scorpio itself was set up by Horner for the purpose of lending yet more credibility and complexity to his network he cannot see who might be part of it.

He himself was recruited to be drawn back into Horner’s web for the purpose of the man’s revenge and to take the fall for the whole scam. He did wonder for a moment whether Scorpio had been a set up from the start just to get Campbell. But if Horner wanted him, he’d have found some cheaper, simpler way to drag him out here. No, Scorpio served a purpose, several in fact, but who else was culpable?

Lawson had disappeared from sight the moment they arrived, which told him nothing conclusive. Maybe he was a chaperone to get Campbell out here and into position for Horner. Maybe he had some other purpose in the plan or maybe he knew nothing of anything and was just following orders. But Campbell couldn’t accept that entirely, not after seeing him that Sunday in the office shredding fistfuls of documents, not after the thing in the bathroom.

He had always seemed to him to be putting up such a front as to be hard to take seriously. He’d assumed it was just that the man was a pompous ass trying to project a certain image of himself to the world, cretinous as it was. But now, all that showiness and bluster started looking overdone.

Which leaves Lisa. She’s told him that she was tasked with keeping an eye on him, for reasons now clear to them both. But they’ve tried to kill her already and the look of terror on her face in that basement when Dusan put a bullet through a paint pot and showed everyone what it might do to a skull seemed genuine enough. It can’t have been part of an act and as Hogg had told him, Dusan and Hari weren’t a part of this, not from the start, they were just here to see it through and then tidy up.

So he was back to the start. He had only one ally left, and he had no idea where she was or what they might have done to her.

He looked at Hogg sitting at the workstation, tapping keys and wondered if it was time to start in on him again. For all he’d been told of his situation, the other man still had not agreed to help Campbell. Too scared to go against such powerful men who would punish any transgressions brutally. Too scared to think straight or face up to the truth. Or perhaps he just wasn’t scared enough yet.

 

[] SIXTY THREE

 

It is getting late in the day when Hogg checks his watch and then taps on the video calling icon on the desktop.

‘Horner will want a progress report,’ says Hogg as he adjusts the camera to get them both in frame on the screen. Campbell nods and waits to see Horner appear.

It rings for a while, long enough to make Campbell think that it won’t be answered, but then it goes quiet as the video link establishes and he can see the side of Horner’s face at the edge of the view. His hand seems to hover near the camera too, as though he is trying to block it whilst he finishes another conversation. It does nothing to block the sound of course.

‘When I ask where he is, I’m not looking for you to tell me that you don’t know. I need you to know,’ he says sharply.

‘I can’t babysit all of them,’ replies someone off screen, the voice unmistakeably belongs to Rookes.

‘Well you wouldn’t have to if you’d have done it right.’

He hears a door close and then Horner sits down at his desk and rights the laptop so the camera points squarely at him. Campbell wonders whose absence has Horner so agitated.

‘Gentlemen,’ begins Horner. ‘How are you doing? Productive day?’

Hogg speaks up then, with an assurance and defiance that has almost all of them fooled. Campbell’s shock at hearing him speak up is soon diminished at the tremulous sound of his breathing. The man is terrified. What’s he doing?

‘I think I’d like to have a little more reassurance first. I want to know my money is safe and I also want reassurances about getting home when the job’s done.’

‘Reassurances?’ says Horner with a frown.

‘I want my flight booked. I want the tickets in my hand.’

What sort of security does he imagine that gives him? If his name is on a flight roster somewhere, they can’t touch him? Because of course, nobody ever missed a flight before. What does he think will happen if he leaves an empty seat? An immediate manhunt?

‘What’s changed Mr Hogg? Why the sudden demands?’ Horner asks but as he finishes the sentences he looks up and beyond the camera.

They hear voices from a small distance.

‘Are you busy Michael? Something important?’ the accent sounds oriental and Campbell won’t need to camera to move to confirm that Hari is here, Dusan no doubt at this side.

‘Nothing major. Just some administrative issues. I’ll be done in a second.’

‘Please, don’t stop on our account.’

Horner’s eyes drop slowly to the screen as he realises that he will have to do this with an audience. The very last audience he would choose to have in the world at this time.

‘Things are moving on. I just want everything in place for me,’ says Hogg, apparently encouraged by Horner’s compromised position.

‘So long as your end progresses as instructed, you have nothing to worry about,’ says Horner.

‘I’ll decide that. My end will progress just fine so long as I’m satisfied you’re keeping your word.’

Oh Christ, thinks Campbell, he’s making a play. He’s heard everything Campbell’s told him about the men they are up against and he thinks he’s better going it alone. He thinks he can bargain with them.

Horner is silent for a while as he watches Hogg’s face. Everyone is silent. Campbell can see that there is some residual frustration from his confrontation with Rookes, annoyance at someone absent who should not be, and two people present that he would rather were not. But to have his authority challenged in this way by Hogg is far worse. The big man’s timing is dreadful and it will be critical for Horner to deal with this right.

‘This is no time to lose your nerve Caspar.’ Horner has lowered his chin and looks at Hogg almost through his eyebrows. He looks like an animal preparing to charge.

‘Michael,’ says Hogg, like using his first name in response is in some way engaging the man on the same level. ‘You misunderstand.’

‘I can assure you that is not the case,’ says Horner and he opens a desk drawer without looking down. The sound of it sliding out over its runners sounds like a growl.

When he pulls out the gun, he holds it in full view for a moment, until he knows Hogg has seen it and then he places it on the desk.

Campbell frowns. What kind of threat is that supposed to be as they stare at him over a wi-fi connection? Is he suggesting that he will get in his car and come over to Hogg’s apartment with it? Somehow it lacks immediacy but nonetheless the stakes have just been raised, just as is inevitable in any negotiation. What else does Hogg have here, Campbell wonders, to hold over Horner in the face of this threat?

‘That kind of makes my point,’ says Hogg.

’No, it makes mine.’

Campbell can sense something shift in the room, a change in the energy, the crease of Horner’s brow or the darkening of his tone. He’s not encouraged.

Hogg has overstepped a line here, or simply fumbled whatever advantage he felt he had. Nevertheless he’s picked entirely the wrong time to do it and entirely the wrong approach. Horner’s banking on everything running smoothly and from the failed attempt to kill Lisa and Campbell, to the conversation with Rookes when they walked in, that has not been the case. Indeed, the very presence of Hari and Dusan on the island is not part of Horner’s plan.

‘Well, we’re not going to just sit back and let things happen, not without taking a few precautions.’

Campbell hears the word we jump out of Hogg’s mouth and it is all he can do not to turn and stare at him in disbelief. Now Hogg was dragging him into the mess he was making?

Horner’s eyes shift from one side of the screen to the other, like he’s now looking at him, not Hogg. Campbell stares back, expressionless. He is furiously trying to figure out his next move. If he backs away from Hogg then he abandons him to Horner’s mercy and loses any hope of cooperation he might still hope to win. But jumping on board right now is clearly suicidally stupid and since Horner’s seen right through the bluff, is tantamount to surrender.

Horner’s face is implacable for a while and then he smiles and looks at Hogg again.

‘A formidable partnership to be sure,’ he says. ‘You’ve certainly outflanked me there. And at such a late stage.’

Campbell’s not so much irked by the mocking smugness of Horner’s tone as he is far more alarmed by the clear edge of malice that it is tinged with and the darkness burning in his eyes. Horner has taken all the pushing he will take and will not accept any further loss of the initiative.

‘How to respond,’ he says and his eyes move back and forth across the screen, at both of them.

He can see that Horner knows Hogg is bluffing and that he is making it up as he goes. He knows there is no plan or allegiance between Campbell and Hogg because Hogg is a poor liar and Campbell’s surprise was too hard to conceal. But he also knows that Hogg’s attempt to join forces with Campbell is somehow genuine. The big man has recognised his position and wants to find a way out.

And if he has chosen to depend on Campbell, that makes Campbell Hogg’s weak spot. He needs only to expose Hogg’s weak spot to extract his complicity and surrender.

Horner’s hands go to the sides of the laptop, out of shot as he disconnects wires and then he picks up the gun. He lifts the laptop and the camera rolls and shifts, begins to break up a little. He sees that Horner is out of his seat, rounding his desk. There is a glimpse of the two men standing near the doorway and the camera picks out chests and chins. Horner steps past them and then looks into the camera again for a moment but says nothing.

The frame on screen continues to bounce and shift as Horner carries it with him through the house, through a doorway and then he can see a handrail sliding past as Horner descends down a flight of stairs.

‘Shit,’ whispers Hogg. ‘Oh shit.’

The basement.

The disorienting movement of the camera halts for a moment and the picture swings up to Horner’s face again. Hari and Dusan are trotting down the stairs in the background, following Horner.

Horner moves to set the laptop down and the shaking stops as it comes to rest. Then he spins it round and suddenly Campbell feels his insides flip.

Lisa sits on a mattress in the corner, her legs drawn up to her chin, sheets twisted around her. She wears a dirty t-shirt, too large for her, and her cheeks are dirty and smeared. Her wrists are bound with thin plastic ties that he can barely see in the grainy image of the video feed.

‘Do you know what this man does?’ asks Horner, leaning down to look at Campbell and Hogg on the laptop. ‘Do you know which particular industry he has a large share of?’

‘Lisa,’ Campbell says, hoping for some sort of reaction form her, but she is too scared by the basement and the men that have arrived here again to respond at all.

‘Sex trafficking,’ Horner declares, but Campbell had already arrived at that conclusion.

‘Worldwide operation, lots of girls, lots of clients. Lots of money.’

‘Wait,’ says Campbell. ‘Just wait Michael. Cam down, please.’

‘You would not want her to fall into his hands would you? You cannot begin to imagine how that might be, where she might end up and in whose possession.’

Hogg hasn’t spoken a word and Campbell sees on the horrified look on his face that he knows what a terrible miscalculation he has made, and not just today. Hogg stares at the image of the girl on the screen, balled up and helpless and finally understands what he has got himself involved in, what he has done.

‘No,’ says Hogg quietly.

‘We can’t have that,’ says Horner as he moves into shot at the edge of the screen, a step closer to Lisa.

The arm with the gun rises slowly and Campbell watches but does not understand.

‘No,’ repeats Hogg, almost a whisper.

Horner straightens his arm, draws in a breath and then fires.

 

[]SIXTY FOUR

 

It is pain that snaps him out of it eventually. Pain inflicted on him by Rookes for the very purpose of snapping him out of it.

But the better part of twenty four hours pass before they lose patience and resort to such measures. The deafening explosion of the gunshot caught them all by surprise, nobody really expecting that Horner would do it.

He had delegated the job of killing Campbell to his cronies in an elaborate plot which had proved ineffective but that had been designed to maximise his suffering, rather than to insulate Horner from the task itself. But for everything they all knew he was capable of, none had expected that he would so coldly and unhesitatingly gun down the girl that way.

He had been losing control of the whole thing by small increments. The arrival of Hari and Dusan who had unpicked his careful precautions, the way Rookes and Hogg had both figured more of it out than they were supposed to and the manner that Campbell and his infuriating tenacity continued to torment him. He had refused to die and now he was turning Hogg into a problem too.

He had been pushed into committing this desperate act, not just to exact some further punishment on Campbell but to show all of them watching that he still remained in charge despite what they might have been beginning to think.

It was he who had conceived and designed the whole scam with the bank and the dummy corporations, the creative creation of money, he who had arranged for Campbell to be moved into position and set up for the fall so that there would be a culprit – either dead or alive – when the whole house of cards collapsed in on itself.

He had made a declaration by shooting her that was clear and unambiguous but Campbell had gone almost catatonic from the moment the trigger was pulled and he had watched her thrown backward across the mattress.

Somewhere in the fog of shock and grief that fact began to render itself in Campbell’s meandering thoughts and his resolve began to reform itself as lucidity returned.

But he was still withdrawn and in something of a trance when Rookes arrived with his orders. Waiting had not worked, so now they would try another way to get his attention.

Rookes began to slap his face, increasingly hard, and when that drew no response, he broke a finger.

It was enough.

Focus returned to his eyes and Campbell fixed on Rookes’ face and he withdrew his hand sharply.

‘OK,’ he said.

‘Sharpen up sunshine,’ Rookes said and gone was that slightly jocular mocking tone that seemed the man’s hallmark. Something had changed. The dynamic of the whole situation had shifted dramatically for all of them with Lisa’s killing and Campbell could see from the set of his jaw and look in his eye that Rookes knew that everything was set on a knife edge now. The better to get this finished, however it was going to play out.

‘Get out,’ said Campbell. ‘We’re not done here.’

Rookes watched Campbell’s eyes fix on Hogg at his workstation and he nodded silently and left.

Nothing stirred in the room for long minutes after the door closed. Hogg sat in his chair, scarcely breathing, waiting for Campbell to say something now he had regained his tongue.

He couldn’t quite find the words to frame his fury and Hogg cracked first, unable to bear the silence any longer.

‘Say it. Say something. Say it’s my fault.’

Campbell said nothing. Hogg turned to face him. He’d been crying.

‘I couldn’t have known,’ he started and then stopped himself and tried to return Campbell’s gaze but faltered and dropped his eyes, heavy under the weight of shame.

‘I’m not going to argue with you Caspar,’ said Campbell, his voice flat. ‘But you are going to do what I tell you to.’

Hogg’s shoulders betrayed him, giving away the sobs he was trying to suppress. He knew now he had no other choice than to try to repay Campbell what he was owed.

‘We all killed her. Me, you, Horner. Those meatheads, Rookes. She’s been scared and tortured and then put down like an animal and it was all of us did it.’

Hogg’s shoulders dropped and shook and he raised a hand to his eyes. He was in so deep now, so lost that all he had left was despair. He could see clearly his mistake in taking this job and he may not recover. But he may yet choose how he went.

‘I’m sorry,’ Hogg says as he gathers himself. He cannot manage more, though it is clear he wants to.

‘Me too. I’m sorry. And I’m fucking furious. How about you?’

Hogg looks at him. He looks terrified and cornered and slowly, gradually, Campbell can see that fear give way to a rising anger too.

Hogg’s had enough of being cowed and bullied. He is getting up off his knees.

They look at each other for a long moment and before Hogg can ask the question, Campbell answers it. ‘You threatened him and he didn’t believe you. What’s the use of a threat you can’t carry out? Only one thing left to do now – follow it through.’

 

[]SIXTY FIVE

 

They work solidly for three straight days with scarcely a break for eating or sleeping. Rookes checks in with decreasing frequency to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to. Hogg has to snap him out of what looks like a trance a few times, imagining that Campbell is being haunted over and over just like he is by the killing of Lisa.

But it isn’t that, or not just that. He is focusing his rage, concentrating every scrap of his fury and his anguish on one man, determining how revenge will be taken. How it will feel. He is seeing Horner on his knees, pleading for mercy.

As time passes, he stays locked into the job at hand. There’s plenty of work to keep them busy, coordinating Horner’s scam – the Inflatable Pyramid is what Campbell takes to calling it – and ensure that the shares in circulation are kept out of the wrong hands until the right moment. The wrong hands being normal investors rather than their target audience, for whom there is more communication, more direction and the final phase of the process is close at hand now. The timing of what Hogg and Campbell are planning is going to be critical.

The rest of the time is spent searching for what Campbell knows is out there somewhere, though it will not be signposted or obvious. It will not likely be listed on an open exchange but on the closed books of some specialist organisation, a hedge fund or an investment bank. But they know what they are looking for, know all the names of Horner’s dummy corporations and they just need to find and follow the crumbs.

Horner has handed them the clue. His vanity trumping his discretion with an inevitability that Campbell is coming to rely on. He cannot resist letting someone know just how good he is, even if it is only a handful of people. It is not how Horner is wired, just to sit quietly on the information and let it fall into place. He can’t do that. He needs the recognition from someone even if he is technically in hiding.

Campbell has figured out that the level of disruption does not need to be significant to throw the whole plan. It is tightly run and narrow in scope, the easier for Horner to control it. But that same tightness and close control allow for simple and effective manipulation. Hogg is too deep into the mechanics of it all, sees only numbers and code to really divine meaning from Campbell’s vision but it is beginning to come clearer.

‘The small number of shares means that you control the share price more easily. The price rises or falls based on the number of buy or sell orders you see. So if you have a million shares in circulation and a hundred trades, that’s not going to make much of a move in the price, even if they are all placed at once. But if you have two hundred shares in circulation, and a hundred orders, well that’s a different story entirely right? That will really move the price.’ Hogg has heard it two or three different ways and Campbell repeats it for him again, as much as anything so that he gets it clear in his own mind, let alone Hogg’s.

‘Even then, you want the trades close together, just like Horner’s instructions. We’re telling these guys to trade across a very small time frame. Too close and it looks far too suspicious but too far apart and it won’t have the same effect. So once all the trades are placed, the price is pushed up.’

Hogg nods and lets the other man rehearse the steps in the process again.

‘This is when Horner wants everyone to start selling and all at the same time again. The price will collapse, but so long as everyone does it right, it won’t matter too much as the purchase money wasn’t theirs but the sale proceeds will be, so it’s all profit. You can’t do the buys and the sells too close together as that will also look too suspect. Minutes apart stands out, but hours apart doesn’t, not with the high speed nature of markets and news flow. And that is the weak link. The hours in between buying and selling, there to make it look passingly legitimate and evade the attention of anyone who might be watching. It’s the soft underbelly of Horner’s plan.’

’That’s where we step in,’ says Hogg.

‘More to the point, that’s where we get the market to step in,’ corrects Campbell. ‘Horner wants it to collapse because once everyone sells out and makes their buck, he’ll be holding insurance on the companies and will make a bundle on that.’

‘Run me through that again. How do you get insurance for shares falling? Surely everyone would get that?’

‘It’s not on the shares, it’s on the debt. All of these companies have issued debt – bonds – to each other, to the bank. It was part of the set up process and inflating everything in the first place. What Horner will have is called a Credit Default Swap, a CDS. The Credit Default Swap is designed for when the creditor suffers a default.’ Campbell emphasises the words so as to really underline the point. ‘Which is to say, the borrower fails to repay the lender. The lender loses that money. Unless he has an insurance policy against just such an eventuality.

‘Once the share price has collapsed, the next logical step is to default on the debt. How can you pay your debts if your company is collapsing, after all? Then you claim the payout from the CDS. My guess is that Horner stands to make more off this part than anyone else involved. Probably more than everyone else put together.’

‘Who would insure companies like these though? I mean, if you are going to insure someone’s debt, surely you want to know how likely they are to-‘

‘Default.’

‘- yes default. You want to be confident that those firms aren’t about to go bust before you cover them against going bust right? And if the owner of the firm wants cover, you want to know about him too?’

Campbell is shaking his head. ‘You don’t need to own the debt to buy the insurance. That’s the beauty and the horror of CDS. Pretty much anyone can buy it against any issuer of debt.’

‘I still don’t get it.’

‘OK, think of it like car insurance. You only buy car insurance for your car right? In case you have a crash, or someone crashes into you. But what if you could buy it against my car? Or anyone’s? You own insurance on someone else that pays you out if they crash!’

Hogg chews that over for a moment, a frown lining his forehead.

‘Look,’ says Campbell. ‘If you owned debt issued by a company, and you had reservations about the creditworthiness of that company, you can buy Credit Default Swaps as a way to cover you if those doubts are correct. If the debt defaults, you collect on the insurance. If the company reneges on a debt that it owes to someone else, you get paid.’

Hogg’s frown is intense and he’s still shaking his head.

‘You take out car insurance against Mr Smith. You’ve never met him, you have no dealings with him. Mr Smith and Mr Jones have a crash. You are not involved in that in any way at all. But you have insurance cover against Mr Smith having a car crash and now you claim on the insurance.’

‘OK. I can see why you might want to buy it. You don’t risk getting your legs broken or your car wrecked. But why would anyone in his right mind sell it? They’re on a hiding. They’re going to lose a load of money.’

‘Because you can sell a lot of it and make enough money on what you do sell that it won’t matter so much if you have to pay out occasionally. Car crashes happen all the time, but insurance companies still make money. See, it’s all just speculation. There’s a rationale for it, but mostly it’s just speculation; your seller speculates that the companies they insure won’t fail on their debt, your buyer speculates that they will.’

‘There’s a rationale?’

‘Sure. It enables the market to set an efficient indicator as to the creditworthiness of institutions, like an early warning system. If a CDS for a particular institution starts getting expensive it’s because more people want to own it as the risk of default is perceived to be increasing, then maybe that institution takes steps to remedy the problem – by recapitalising maybe – or to reassure the market that everything is OK.’

‘It seems like an awfully complex way to do that. Can’t you just check the accounts and see if they’re making money?’

‘Sure you can,’ smiles Campbell archly. ‘Because nobody ever cooks the books.’

‘But-‘ Hogg starts but Campbell holds up a hand.

‘It doesn’t matter why it happens or whether you understand it. It just matters that it does happen. All the time, every second of every day. It is a huge market, absolutely ginormous. Beyond your imagining. It made a handful of people billionaires virtually overnight when they bet against subprime mortgages in the US. When subprime borrowers did what subprime borrowers do and stopped paying their debts, a few smart people with the foresight to see it coming had loaded up on CDS against subprime and they cleaned up.’

‘And that is what Horner’s trying to do? Create some subprime companies to default on their debts and make a bundle overnight?’

‘Well yes, in a manner of speaking.’

‘OK. So what then? How do we trip him up? Keep paying the debts? That sounds like an expensive way to spite the man.’

Campbell smiles, pleased to have made a little progress with Hogg on a couple of levels.

’No, we invalidate his insurance.’

‘How do we do that?’

‘Tell the insurance people what they’ve done. Tell them they’re insuring fraudulent companies. I’d expect them all to consider that a breach of contract and to refuse to pay out any claims.’

‘Surely if we tell them that then won’t they just tell Horner they’re cancelling the contracts? He’d know something was up.’

Campbell shakes his head. ‘I don’t think so. See, then they may have to refund him, or they may have to report to their bosses up the line that they sold a Credit Default Swap without doing their proper homework and the bosses won’t want to hear that because that would mean they have to stop pretending they don’t know what goes on with their traders, and it might also mean that they would have to report it to the authorities. And nobody likes to have the regulators or the police sniffing around. No, they refuse to pay on grounds of fraud or nondisclosure and they’ll know that the only choices Horner will have will be to challenge the decision – which will expose the fraud – or go away quietly for fear of attracting trouble. Either way, Horner gets nothing.’

‘So what now?’

‘We need to find out who sold Horner the CDS contracts and warn them. Warning them is easy enough, but finding them won’t be.’

‘Why not?’

‘No register, no easily available information on this type of thing. It will be quite specialised.’

‘Surely,’ Hogg says, ‘if there are fewer of them, that narrows the search?’

Campbell shakes his head, thinking hard. ‘No, you need to know where to start looking for that to help us.’

‘Well where would Horner know where to buy it?’

Campbell looks at Hogg for a moment, his eyes glazed. ‘Yes. That might be it.’

‘What?’

‘Maybe that’s how we start looking; where Horner bought it. We try to buy some.’

 

[]SIXTY SIX

 

Lawson tried to figure out how it had gone this way. He had been on a good run and had won more hands than he had lost. But still he was in a hole.

The few hands he had lost had been the few he could least afford to of course, but having taken a few slugs of the exceptional whisky and then accepted the offer of a loan, he was up on the deal by a distance inside half an hour.

One big loss had set him right back but he stuck at it and it kept coming good, wins piling up.

So how was it now that the credit was gone and the sun was up?

There were four of them running the game. Never playing, just watching. They were well dressed and well groomed and the man who had picked him up the night before outside the casino was watching him ever more closely, with his dark, close-set eyes.

Lawson’s brain began to race as he cycled through what options he might have. They did not look the types to take an IOU or to let him walk out of there with a promise to return with their money. He would need to find a way to pay them. Could he get something from the bank? Maybe get the driver to take him and wait whilst he arranged a withdrawal.

But he knew there wasn’t nearly enough cash available. He was waiting on his big payout from Horner to come though, but that would only come when that job was done.

He knew the CDS contracts he’d arranged for Horner would be worth something, perhaps he could make a call. Sell one on and use the proceeds – he had set up more than Horner had asked for after all.

But it would take time to find a buyer, he’d need a terminal to do it and the money would not come direct to his own account.

‘I see you’re finished playing,’ says the driver with the close, dark eyes.

Lawson nods and stands. No point delaying the inevitable.

‘Would you come with me?’

Lawson follows him through the suite toward the table with the food and the drinks.

‘Something to drink? Some refreshments?’

‘Thanks,’ he says and pours a large measure of the Scotch with an unsteady hand.

‘Shall we talk about the credit? How would you like to repay?’

‘Look, what’s your name?’

The man looks at him for a moment before he replies. ‘I am Vincent,; he says in a way that tells Lawson only that the man’s name is not Vincent at all.

‘Vincent,’ he says and gets half way through a sentence about how much he can get his hands on right away, but the other man can see where this is going and stops him with a look.

Lawson flashes on the CDS again, thinks frantically how he might put it to use, if there’s any way it can be accessed or even transferred to this man, so he can profit himself.

He knows it won’t work, that there’s no chance of explaining how it would work or even have the man believe a word.

His silence is telling and Vincent walks to the door and bids Lawson follow him. Lawson finishes the large measure of Scotch and replaces the glass on the table heavily.

He steps through the doorway and is shown along the corridor and into the lift. The man leans forward and presses the B for basement.

When the lift pings and the doors slide open he follows the man out into the underground parking level and for a moment he wonders if this is it, whether they would be so ruthless and vengeful to kill him here amid the concrete and parked cars.

But that makes no sense. It is the money they want, the money that they have wanted from him since the moment they marked him, walking out of the casino looking pleased with himself.

Vincent thumbs the key fob and the side lights flash on a nearby SUV. Lawson climbs in to the passenger seat and buckles up.

‘I am going to drive now,’ says Vincent.

Lawson nods.

‘You are going to tell me where,’ says the man whose name is anything but Vincent, and twists the key.

Lawson nods again and stares out the windscreen and finds that over the lingering flavour of the Scotch he can taste the panic.

 

[] SIXTY SEVEN

 

Campbell is surprised to find himself back in Horner’s presence and concerned to see that they have all been assembled here. Something is afoot.

Rookes gathered he and Hogg up and sped them silently to Horner’s office.

Horner himself seemed agitated and tetchy but like he was trying to keep a lid on it. He was saying nothing though. As keen as he was to share his triumphs, he liked to keep his failures to himself.

Campbell felt a gnawing anxiety that he and Hogg and their efforts were about to be exposed. They had barely got any further with their search though, maybe a half dozen phone calls. But then just as he’d hung up on the last one, chewing over the remark the man had made about telling him “the same thing I told the guy yesterday” before dismissing his enquiry out of hand, Rookes had interrupted them.

All the instructions are in place for the scam now. Everyone has the relevant account numbers, the details of the trades, where to place them and at what time. They all know that when it is done, Horner’s bank will transfer their ‘profits’ to the account of their choosing – Jersey, Switzerland, right here in Grand Cayman perhaps – and they can melt into the scenery. Hogg’s system will collapse itself, the websites and the network of email accounts and other lines of communication will shut down and disappear.

It has been designed this way such that Horner can feel safe knowing that if anyone is watching, they will not detect the signs of a coordinated process, orchestrated by a single source with Hogg directing the various participants from his terminal. By knowing their parts and following the steps the trades will look like nothing more than the independent actions of different investors from all over the world.

By the time anyone realises what is going on it will be over and everyone gone. All they will find will be a ringing alarm and an empty vault. That is, at least, the plan.

That Campbell and Hogg know this gives them their only possible advantage and Campbell feels keenly how otherwise vulnerable they are, surrounded again by dangerous men like Rookes and Horner.

He stares at his nemesis as he paces the carpet and clenches his jaw. Horner who has so recently graduated from mere scheming and fraud straight up to cold-eyed murder. He still can’t quite believe that the other man had it in him, still cannot shrug the feeling that the threat in the room comes from Rookes or from Hari and Dusan, that Horner was and should always be thought of as a pen-mightier-than-sword sort of criminal.

But there is a sequence on loop in his head of Horner’s hand gripping the handgun and pointing at Lisa and squeezing on the trigger, the shock of the sound of it and the sight of her body thrown down like a ragdoll, limp and empty. It is still so profound and raw that he can only cling tight to the boiling black fury inside that sustains him. He sees her smile at him across the table of the restaurant as they sat on the floor and drank wine, hears her confession on the sand, sees her modelling swimsuits the night before the flight, giddy with excitement. He can feel her skin and smell her hair and for Campbell she is not gone and may never be.

So what is it they want? Surely they have not spotted what Hogg and he were attempting in that room, unless they’d bugged it and were listening in? But why bother with that? Why be so subtle when you can just stand a guy in the room to scowl at them and listen to their every word?

No, that would compromise the careful process of division that Horner has created, making sure that nobody knows too much. There was something else and Horner looked as though he were working up to it.

‘Everything is in place?’

Hogg nods. ‘Just as instructed. Details of the account numbers, timings. Everything.’

Horner nods. ‘It may be necessary to delay,’ he says.

‘Delay? How long?’ Hogg frowns and looks worried at the prospect of having to prolong the process.

Horner shakes his head absently. ‘A day or so. Maybe. Something’s come up. Minor hiccup,’ Horner tries to inject a breeziness into his voice that lacks all sincerity.

‘We can send out more instructions of course but the whole thing happens soon. We’d have to send everything out at the same time or at least if we stagger communications, the late ones will be left very little notice to act. And there’s no way of knowing if everyone will receive it now that they think they already have their final instructions.’ Hogg is talking fast from the nerves and is clearly rattled by what Horner is asking. What he says is true enough, but he’s also scared of why Horner is asking this, as much as what he’s asking.

Campbell watches his face for some signal. The tension there is clear enough and the way he seems to be searching for the words to say and to suppress his frustration at Hogg’s babbling indicates that he’s holding back. This approach of his to keep the information compartmentalised and fragmented so as to retain overall control is one thing, but this seems different: like he doesn’t want them to know what’s happening because he himself is worried. It’s not about control, it’s about fear.

So what’s he scared of? Not he or Hogg for sure. He’s certain he has them cowed and though he may be worried that Rookes knows more than he’d like him to, he does not know enough to cause a real problem. The show of strength in shooting Lisa was as much for Hari and Dusan’s benefit as Hogg and Campbell. The scam was in place as it was supposed to be, as he so meticulously planned, so why the need for the delay? What was missing?

Something nags at Campbell as Hogg starts talking again and he tries to reach for it as he watches Horner wave a hand to silence Hogg.

What’s missing?

Hogg has either missed the gesture Horner makes or chooses to ignore it and keeps talking, his voice rising in pitch with the agitation. It catches with Campbell, snowballs with the other thing that’s started rolling in his mind.

Maybe it’s not what is missing, but whom.

That nervous speed-talking does it, reminds him of someone who has been absent since their arrival on this island. Lawson.

Where is Lawson?

Is that what Horner is so keyed up about? Didn’t he catch him saying something about it to Rookes yesterday? “Find him Rookes so that the next time I ask you, you’ll have an answer.” Why would he be worried about Lawson, enough that he would suddenly want to delay the whole operation?

Hogg shut up as Horner snapped at him and the penny dropped for Campbell all in an instant. Lawson was running the CDS part of the plan for Horner but had gone missing.

Why else delay unless Horner stood to miss out? Why else the nerves and agitation instead of his usual imperious manner? Because he knows that the delay will anger Hari and Dusan and for all the credit he may have gained with them by shooting Lisa, he is still – rightly – terrified of them. They who will make a noose for him from his own entrails.

And of course, with all this compartmentalising, the cellular nature of the plan, it would make sense that he would have someone else set up that aspect of it. The questions he and Hogg were asking themselves about where Horner would buy his CDS contracts from were on the right lines but the real answer was that he wouldn’t. Just like everything else he would get someone else to do it and keep his fingerprints off everything. Like a conductor with an orchestra, he would create a symphony without touching an instrument.

Campbell considers saying something but holds back. Horner is only happy when he’s in command and smug and right now he’s off balance. Telling him that he knew why would knock him further but to what end and what advantage? Just to see him more uncomfortable? No. Campbell recalled the set of boxing sessions he’d done back in London and some of the lessons he’d learned. Even he knew that there was no use taking a swing unless you knew that you’d land it properly.

The best advantage is the one your opponent doesn’t know you have. If he knows he’s got a weakness – a cut, or a glass jaw – then he can deal with that and defend it. If you go for that weakness too early, you’re just letting him know what to defend.

Horner was talking now as Campbell tuned back in. He was asking for 48 hours and for a way that Hogg could make sure that the message got through – mark it as urgent, send more than one.

‘You have the problem with data flow again though; the more we send, the more visible it is, particularly if it is concentrated. A big data-burst like that, it will be like a siren.’

‘He’s right,’ adds Campbell, ‘not to mention that it’s Wednesday. 48 hours takes you into the weekend so you’re actually delaying until Monday before you can do any trading. People will wonder why it’s being pushed back so long. It isn’t two days, it’s five.’ He does his best to sound cautious and even helpful and keep the smile off his face.

Horner eyeballs him, angry at the fact that he’s making sense and pointing out the awkward truth. They all know who he means when he says people.

It seems as though Hari and Dusan are present, even when they aren’t.

Hogg is about to start up again when they hear the front door open and they all turn. Is that them, he wonders, arriving just on time, conjured forth by the very mention of them? He cannot see through the doorway but Horner can and the expression on his face is one of bafflement.

Campbell stands instinctively, feeling his pulse quicken. Horner is not wearing the usual look of anxiety that fixes in place when Hari and Dusan are around. There’s recognition there, but confusion too.

Lawson walks into the room. He is not alone.

‘Giles?’ Horner says looking past him.

A tall man with dark, close-set eyes follows Lawson in and by the look on Lawson’s face, something is badly wrong. He is sweating and not from the heat.

‘Michael. Hi,’ Lawson begins, his attempt to sound confident and relaxed failing entirely. ‘I wonder if I might impose on you for a moment?’

The dark eyed man looks around the room and comes no further. He assesses their numbers and then shifts his hands closer to his body. Campbell guesses he is armed and that he is ready to draw a weapon. His eyes flit between Horner and Rookes and he tries to decide which of them is in charge, which represents a threat.

‘What on earth is this? Where the hell have you been?’ Horner can see that the man with Lawson is unlikely to be friendly but cannot figure out why. On top of everything else he has to contend with, this is a most unwelcome development and his frustration and fraying nerves are evident in the tone of voice and the flickering eyelids.

‘I was hoping you might advance me some money. My bonus. We’re almost done now, and I’ve dealt with what you asked me to so…’

Horner listens but his brow furrows. Why is Lawson asking this? Why now and why in the company of this menacing stranger?

‘I don’t know what you’re doing Giles, nor what you’ve done, but this is no concern of mine.’

‘He owes. He needs to pay,’ the dark eyed man barks and his eyes flash on Rookes again. He has clearly discounted Hogg and Campbell from the equation.

‘That may be so,’ says Horner to the man. ‘But it is still no concern of mine.’

‘Michael please. I can explain later. I… I don’t need all of it. I’ll waive the rest in fact, if you’d just… ‘

‘It is payable upon completion of the job. The job is incomplete,’ Horner is indignant. His eyes are fixed on Lawson and are burning with furious reproach.

In his peripheral vision, Campbell sees movement and watches as Rookes takes a step forward. He’s done watching.

‘Are you going to introduce us to your friend? Or was he about to leave?’ says Rookes.

Dark-eyes tenses and shifts himself a little further behind Lawson. His hand moves closer to his body and Campbell sees Rookes clock the action and mirror it.

‘This is Vincent. An acquaintance to whom I owe a debt. Once he has his money, he’ll be on his way,’ says Lawson, his voice an octave higher. He’s in between the security man about to go for his gun and the man behind him who has brought him here under duress. He knows well enough the stakes even as they rise sharply, beyond his control.

‘It’s nearly done though isn’t it?’ Campbell blurts out. He can feel the tension in the room jumping and spiking. ‘Now there are no more delays. Now that you have what you need.’

Campbell is addressing Horner and Horner looks back at him as he realises that Campbell knows something, has understood Lawson’s importance and the risk that his absence had brought.

‘That’s it now isn’t it? Giles has what you need, everything else is in place. No need to postpone.’

Horner might see what Campbell is saying makes sense, he might know that he’s just trying to defuse the situation and get rid of the intruder, but when he sighs and reaches for the desk drawer, Campbell knows that it isn’t a cheque book he’s reaching for.

He watches Horner shake his head and reach into the drawer. He sees the expression on his face of defiance and resolve. One too many people trying to interfere, one too many people trying to gatecrash his party and not for the first time. Horner won’t accept this.

‘No,’ he says and he points the handgun at Vincent.

 

*

 

Everything goes into a strange sort of hyperactive slow motion at that point, Campbell pulling away from the three armed men, hauling Hogg away from them too.

Vincent has his own gun out so fast that Campbell can’t take in the smooth swift action of the draw, like the piece just jumped into his hand through his clothes. Rookes responds fast too, but as good as he is, he’s a beat off the pace.

There is shouting and gesturing and the look of terror on Lawson’s face, stuck in the middle of all three barrels, is all too familiar to Campbell. Pure and undiluted fear, like every single nightmare arriving at once.

Hogg seems paralysed too, and stumbles backwards, his legs stiff as Campbell pulls at the man’s collar.

Vincent steps in closer to Lawson, the better to shield himself from the other two men. Lawson feels it and panics, knowing he is a human-shield now and he begins to move toward Horner, pleading for help, for calm and a solution that has long since passed out of reach.

As he goes Vincent goes with him, rather than retreat toward the doorway. It may be an escape route, but he’ll be exposed with two guns on him, so he elects to stay and play this out. Campbell realises what Horner knows, that Lawson is still valuable. Only he knows exactly where all the CDS contracts are held and how to access them, and Horner needs that more than anything.

He is too far gone now to simply let the trades happen on their own. That might pay back those of his enemies he is seeking to placate, to pay his own ransom, but without Lawson’s information, he’ll be left destitute. He simply isn’t capable of accepting that. He has already fallen too far.

When the first shot is fired, it is too loud in the enclosed space to immediately locate the source and he cannot tell, in the crowded room and the shifting bodies, who has pulled his trigger.

Vincent has shifted forward and away from them all, trying to keep Lawson between Horner in front at the desk, and Rookes who is to his right. There is a space opening up near the door and Campbell sees that he and Hogg are closest to it and that none of the other men are paying them any attention.

He moves, pulling Hogg, just a step. Vincent swings his gun toward them but then quickly back to the position over Lawson’s shoulder where he tries to cover the other men. Rookes checks them too and Campbell sees his wide eyes lock on him for a second. Rookes might not realise that Lawson is valuable, but he believes that Hogg and Campbell are and that they need to be kept close to finish the scam and help Rookes collect his fee.

Campbell notices a hole in the wall over Horner’s shoulder and realises that it’s the intruder who has shot first, a warning perhaps, but fire has not been returned. Rookes is taking his cue from Horner and holds back for now, but keeps shifting his feet to get a better angle on his target.

Lawson cries out Horner’s name in anguish and he sees Horner fix his gaze on him and then very quickly drop his eyes, just a flash of movement. Lawson seems to pause and then a glimmer of acknowledgement. Campbell sees this unfold and understands, Horner is telling Lawson to drop fast to give him a clear shot.

As he does so, the noise peaks again as Lawson shouts in terror, Horner bellows at the other man to drop his weapon and then Rookes spots Campbell and Hogg breaking for the door.

From the corner of his eye he can see the dark eyed man swinging his gun around at them as they bolt and he can see Rookes exploding off the balls of his feet after them. He hears the shot and it seems to drive him faster through the opening and into the hallway, shoving Hogg before him, the quickest the big man has moved in his life.

He feels nothing and doesn’t stop but he hears a roar of pain and more gunfire. Rookes may have taken the bullet that was meant for he or Hogg, but if that were true, Horner surely would have had an open shot on Vincent to take him down. Campbell made no attempt to stop and check.

They were through the front door and into sunlight now, down the porch steps and across the lawn at full speed. A car with an unlocked door sat at the curb – the gunman’s? – and the keys still in the ignition. Was he truly expecting just to walk in and out of the house that fast and take his money? What had Lawson told him?

No matter. They clambered in and did not look back, not until they were deep into Georgetown traffic.

 

[] SIXTY EIGHT

 

Hogg was treading a line between scared and excited. He knew that running from them made him a target but he was also thrilled to be free.

There had been no illusions about Campbell’s status after he returned from the sea. He was a captive pure and simple. But with Hogg there had been a pretence, maintained for some time, that he was there voluntarily. Being confined to one room for most of the time and escorted and shadowed for the rest was passed off as a necessity for the job they were doing. But Campbell had finally convinced him otherwise. In fact he was surprised that it had taken as long as it had for Hogg to face facts. Fear had him in the firm grip of denial.

It had been enough to make Hogg panic and confront Horner and try to make a deal. But trying to make a deal when you were that obviously terrified was like playing poker with your whole hand showing.

Campbell knew that Hogg still held on to some of the blame for Lisa’s death but Campbell felt otherwise. His actions may have acted as a catalyst, but nothing more. It was Campbell who had put her in that room, Campbell and Horner. At any point he could have kept her at arm’s length, but even when he began to see the danger that was unfolding he had failed to push her to a safe distance. He could have stopped her getting on the plane, could have stopped himself getting into her bed.

So it was he and Horner who shared the responsibility for her death and Hogg, though he would carry guilt with him for a long time, was as much a victim as she had been. He had been ambivalent enough to ignore the early signs that something wasn’t right, and got himself involved all the same. But he could have had no idea how wrong it all was, nor the ultimate consequences of his misjudgement, and he would have to live with those.

Campbell found a space in the car park outside Hogg’s apartment and looked over at him shifting nervously in the seat, eyes darting about for any sign of Horner’s men.

‘Let’s get in and out fast. Grab what you need and nothing else.’

‘Sure,’ nodded Hogg. ‘What if someone’s there?’

‘Rookes is behind us if he’s even moving; I’m pretty sure he took a bullet from that guy Vincent as he came after us.’

‘Jesus.’

‘Yeah, well that’s karma right? Anyway, it’s only the meatheads that might be there and I can’t see why they’d be hanging around an empty apartment. If Rookes didn’t have them with him earlier when he picked us up, they’ve probably been stood down.’

‘Yeah, but after all that, he’ll be on the phone to them surely?’

‘In which case, they’re maybe getting in a car now. So let’s get out of here before they arrive.’

Hogg thinks on that a moment and then heads for the apartment.

They are in luck. Campbell’s guess seems right and they grab passports and backpacks, stuffing a few items in that seem essential and soon it is Hogg dragging Campbell through a doorway.

‘Come on, let’s just get moving,’ he says.

Campbell follows him to the car and starts the ignition.

‘What now then?’

‘Get the hell out of here. Off the island, soon as we can.’

‘Airport?’ says Campbell.

Hogg shakes his head. ‘No. Well, not both of us. I think we should split up.’

Campbell is surprised at this. He’s been assuming that Hogg will need more hand-holding but now they’re neck-deep in genuine danger he seems to have achieved a degree of calm focus.

‘Drop me in town and then get yourself to the airport,’ Hogg instructs him.

‘What’s your plan?’

‘Divide and conquer. We split up it makes it harder for them to track us both, easier for us to confuse them.’

‘Divide and conquer? I’m not sure that means what you think it does.’

Hogg shrugs. ‘Yeah, well, I’m improvising.’

In town they part with the briefest of words and Campbell gets on the road to the island’s only airport. He parks the car in a distant corner of the car park.

A thought strikes him as he steps through the doors and begins to scan the departure boards. He wonders whether in the few days since he arrived here, whether his bag has arrived. He makes his way to lost property where a very laid back gentleman has a leisurely hunt around the half-full room, then produces his hold-all.

Campbell grins at him and rummages in his pocket for a few dollars to tip the man who looks surprised to receive the $50 that is the only note that Campbell can locate. An unexpected break for both of them.

He heads back to the main departure hall and scans the boards looking for flights out.

Approaching a ticket desk he asks the woman smiling at him if the New York flight is on time.

‘It is,’ she says.

‘And are there any seats?’

‘Uh,’ she taps the keyboard, scans the screen. ‘Yes, several.’

‘OK, great. How much?’

‘Business or Economy?’

‘Economy,’ he says.

The transaction takes only a few minutes before the ticket is in his hand but the time drags and stretches like a Dali clock. He fights the urge to keep staring at the entrance and simply maintain a calm demeanour but the woman at the keyboard doesn’t notice his agitation, or doesn’t care.

As she passes the ticket to him and wishes him a pleasant flight he feels the familiar buzz of his phone in his pocket and pulls it out.

The number on screen is not one he knows and he stares at it, frozen. Is it long-distance, maybe Steve checking in on him? Or perhaps Horner or Rookes are going to try to reason or bargain with him. Or threaten him.

No. Surely not.

‘Sir?’ says the woman and here eyes are flicking over his shoulder. Campbell spins as he sees and feels the looming shape of someone standing close behind.

He starts and steps back but the man is a stranger. Just another customer in the queue.

‘Sorry. Go ahead,’ he says to the man and steps aside. The phone buzzes in his hand again.

Hell with it.

‘Yes?’

‘Finally. I thought maybe you’d managed to lose your phone or something.’ Hogg’s voice is clear and loud and very welcome.

‘Jesus, I nearly didn’t answer.’

‘Oh yes, this is a disposable phone. Pay-as-you-go thing I just picked up. How you getting on?’

‘Well, I found my bag,’ he says, suddenly uneasy about the idea of saying too much over the phone.

‘Your bag? That’s a result,’ he says. ‘Change of underwear!’

‘Need it after all that.’

‘No kidding. Heart’s still going like I’ve had a pint of espresso. You got a plan?’

Campbell says nothing for a moment, feeling his paranoia get a foot in the door. ‘Yeah, I-‘

‘Don’t need to tell me. Probably best you don’t.’

‘Sure, I guess. You? You OK?’

Hogg ignores the question. ‘Look, you’ll find there’s been a deposit in your account. Go anywhere you want. Stay anywhere, as long as you like. Keep moving. Change your name, get surgery…’

It takes a moment to register what Hogg is telling him but it clicks soon enough. Hogg has sent him money from Horner’s fake bank to his own very real one.

‘Wait, how?’

‘Been busy. Got the phone and then got online. I’ve sorted us both out with cash from Icarus and in less than an hour I’ll be embarking on the trip of a lifetime.’ These last words he says in the manner of a game show host.

‘You what?’

‘Never been on a cruise. I can see the boat out the window right now. She’s a beauty.’

Campbell starts laughing, marvelling at what Hogg’s managed to achieve in such a short spell.

‘Seriously, have you seen some of these cruise ship freaks? I’ve got to go buy some awful clothes just to fit in.’

‘Caspar,’ says Campbell. ‘You going to be OK?’

‘You can’t hear me shrugging right now, but that’s what is happening,’ Hogg replies but it is clear that the jocular tone is bravado. ‘Who knows Dan, but at least we both have a shot now right?’

‘Yeah. Good luck.’

‘I’ll keep this number a while if you need to get in touch from wherever you end up.’

‘Sure. Thanks.’

‘Daniel? What do you think we should do about Horner’s big scheme?’

‘Can you trash it?’

‘Don’t know. Not sure I have the machines and the info I need here. Or the time. Can we tell someone? Anonymous tip off?’

Campbell chews it over. ‘I don’t know.’

‘But we can’t let him win can we?’

‘I guess. But the last time I ruined his plans is what led to all this. Maybe it’s just best not to make the bad guys angry.’

‘Maybe.’

‘You know what Caspar? I’ve been trying so hard to avoid a boring life and find some action that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be bored.’

‘You say that like it’s a bad thing.’

Campbell nods and says nothing.

‘Look after yourself,’ says Hogg. ’Keep your head down.’

 

[]SIXTY NINE

 

At check-in, the friendly attendant asks if he is travelling alone. She looks him over and then smiles and offers to bump him to business class with the airline’s compliments. He has after all paid the high-cost, last minute ticket price. He wonders for a second whether the attendant’s decision is down to an appreciation of his rugged good looks, but then catches his reflection in the glass behind the desk and figures that it is more likely pity has motivated her act of kindness.

In the air now and enjoying the comforts of Business Class, he has time to chew over what he’s been through and what next. He had a gnawing sense of guilt at all that cash in his account. He could probably get by on what Hogg had put there for the rest of his life and never work again, but that troubled him. It was all Horner’s dirty money, conjured up with his lies and manipulation. It was tainted and though he had little choice but to use it now to get himself away and to safety, the idea of living off that ill-gotten wealth seemed wrong.

He’d tell himself that he deserved it after all he’d experienced at the hands of Michael Horner, and not just with Scorpio and there in the Cayman Islands. Back in London too, years back, with the gatecrasher and all the chaos and trauma that had brought. He’d tell himself that it was well-earned after everything, that this was his compensation. But there was no getting past that word; tainted.

Everything thing he did in future, everything that the money might allow him to do and to buy would carry a stain and he would always see Michael Horner in the corner of his mind, making sure he never forgot where it came from.

It was irrational and he tried to shrug it off. There was so much there and he wanted to find a way to let himself be OK with it. He’d worked in finance for so long that he no longer thought of money in an emotional way as some people did. The way people would inherit it from dead parents and attach a sentimental value to the pounds and pence, like these numbers were different from those other ones. Or to view hard-saved capital differently from an easy windfall.

But this was different and windfall though it may have been, Campbell would never be able to separate the knowledge of its origin from the simple mathematics. It would always carry the stain of Lisa’s blood.

He skimmed the in-flight magazine and picked at the in-flight meal and mulled over Horner’s scheme. He and Hogg had ultimately dodged a decision on whether to sabotage the whole thing. It was set up and ready to go as they had told Horner, all the instructions and timings in place, so doing nothing now would allow it all to play out. The bad guys would get rich and Horner would be free of their vengeful anger at last. Would that be enough for him? He and Hogg had run and would look to melt away and disappear, but would Horner accept that and let them go? Horner himself would be free now after all and if Lawson had handed over all the information on the CDS then Horner would make his money too.

What then? Hogg was right; keep your head down. He intended to. But would he need to worry about being pursued or would Horner take the success of his scheme as sufficient to move on? He’d put Campbell through hell – almost killed him, shot his girlfriend dead in front of him. Maybe Horner would reflect that the trauma and psychological wounds he’d inflicted would satisfy his need for revenge. Knowing that Campbell would suffer with the scars of his experiences for the rest of his life should appeal to a man of such abiding spite.

Eventually the exhaustion overrode the mental fidgeting and he drifted into an uncomfortable sleep. There were dreams and in them he was drowning again, deep under the ocean, and then locked in a room again, his wrists bound with coarse rope. There was a cold draft and a squeaky window that sounded like a mouse, and there was the low guttural growl of a man threatening to kill all the people he loved. Later he saw Lisa. She was smiling and crying at the same time and telling him it was OK.

But when he woke, Campbell knew it had been a dream and he knew that it wasn’t OK. Not at all.

 

[]SEVENTY

 

His bag gets through luggage claim far more smoothly than in Grand Cayman and as he shuffles through immigration, the cold, flat look he gets from the border officer scares the life out of him but he tells himself this is what they do to everyone and keeps calm and expressionless and soon enough he’s through.

He takes dollars from a cashpoint and stuffs his wallet. He’s not yet decided on his moral quandary, but for now he is driven by necessity and he figures that paying for things with cash instead of cards is a simple and obvious precaution.

That works fine for him in the cab and the driver takes the tip off him with the requisite lack of grace that he expects from a New York cab driver. Then he hits Manhattan and still has no real plan but it’s late in the city and he need somewhere to sleep. This is where the paying with cash plan comes unstitched.

The hotel ask for his passport and his credit card and insist that even if he is intending to pay up front in cash for the room, the card is required as a security deposit. Should there be anything else to settle up on check-out he’ll have the choice at that point how to pay.

It is, of course, an entirely reasonable request for them to make and the longer that he stands there chewing it over, the more suspicious he looks. He considers turning on his heel and walking out, but then imagines how that will look, whether it will be on camera; the guy who got spooked when we asked him for the standard check in stuff and bailed.

Getting his passport and credit cards checked and scanned are not what Hogg had in mind when he told him to keep his head down and as he considers the other man and how he’s faring, escaping from Horner at a leisurely pace aboard the cruise ship, the world’s most slow-motion getaway, it occurs to him that if Horner were trying to find ways to locate him by tracking down his passport or credit card it would be Hogg he would be using to do it.

At best, Horner will have survived the armed scuffle with Vincent – he had a gun pointed at him when Campbell had bolted, whilst VIncent had been aiming his at Rookes – and Horner may or may not have lost one of Rookes or Lawson but Dusan and Hari would be on his case by now, all over him to make sure that nothing else went wrong before the trades completed and they got paid. Maybe they’d extract more from him if they got wind of the CDS contracts Lawson had been setting up. No, he figures, Horner had his hands full.

‘I’ll take the suite,’ he says turning back to the desk and sliding his passport and credit card across the smooth marble of the countertop.

‘Of course sir. We’ll have your bags taken up.’

Campbell looked down at the holdall hanging on his shoulder. ‘I’m good.’

The suite was, by the standards of the accommodation he’s experienced since he left London, plush. He walked around and spread his arms so as to better occupy the space.

He ran a deep, hot bath and flicked channels on the huge television and then perused the menu and considered room service.

The bed was vast and exquisitely comfortable and he flopped on it after the bath and dozed for an hour before gunfire woke him. He turned the TV down and decided that something from the bar might settle his jangling nerves and it was only after a stiff drink that he finally accepted that he was avoiding, very determinedly, giving further thought to what exactly he was going to do next.

Keep your head down, Hogg had said and the words had chased him through the skies to New York. They had dogged him and spooked him enough that the thought of heading back to London seemed a bad idea. They’d know where to look for him in London, if they wanted to look. And as full as Horner’s hands might be, he was still not an adversary to be taken lightly nor his capacity for holding a grudge underestimated.

So New York seemed like a good place to get lost in, but only for a short spell and only as a way to create a confusing trail for anyone that might seek to track him.

The cash would buy him bus or train tickets and he considered heading off to somewhere relatively close like Boston or Washington from where he could get on another plane and keep making himself hard to track for a while. Europe would be easier to disappear into. As a citizen of the EU he might find it easier to move around and cross through its more relaxed borders, move city to city, mountain to coast.

Canada was a big place though. A big place with wild open expanses that might swallow up a man who sought solitude and had the means and the will to sustain himself that way for a time. Perhaps a road trip to the West Coast of the US. Buy a car for cash, drive it to the Pacific and then decide whether to go north or south. Mexico might be fun to go back to. Find some of the backpacking spots he’d stopped in on his travels, maybe keep heading south and make for the Inca Trail. Actually do it this time.

When he finally fell asleep, wrapped in the soft embrace of the goose down quilt, Campbell had located several shards of hope within himself he’d feared might be forever lost.

 

[] SEVENTY ONE

 

He sleeps late, the exhaustion of the preceding days taking their toll on him. He calls down for breakfast, which they tell him they are no longer serving, given the lateness of the hour, but can arrange for an omelette and a pot of coffee to be sent up.

The food is good and the coffee hot and fresh and both hit the spot. After a hot shower and some fresh clothes he feels ready to start doing something, making some plans, maybe some decisions.

He heads for the lobby and asks at the desk if there are any computers and internet access and is pointed to a corner of the lobby where there is seating and several PCs.

The cavernous space of the hotel lobby seems serene despite the number of people that are coming and going and Campbell picks his way across the space, dodging the baggage carts and the tourists milling around until he steps from the marble floor onto the carpeted area with the computer terminals.

It takes him a moment to register what he sees next and things seem to shift into a slower speed, the sounds around him dimmed, the activity somehow more distant. Or perhaps he is just more focused on the man in the chair who has just looked over his shoulder and smiled.

Giles Lawson. He has no right to look so pleased to see him and suddenly Campbell isn’t moving slowly anymore, he’s moving fast, striding across the carpet with purpose, his hands balled into fists.

A voice stops him short, stops him right in his tracks and he snaps his head around to the source. Rookes is seated on the sofa, the top of his head barely above the line of the cushion where he’s sunk in so far.

’Ah, here he is,’ says Rookes. ‘I’m sure there’s something to be said here about the early bird catching the worm.’

Campbell says nothing at all. Just stares at Rookes. How did they get to him so fast?

Rookes has his left arm in a sling and he shrugs it at Campbell. ‘Took one in the shoulder, so this is sort of for show, but it does hurt like a bastard if I move it much. Ever been shot?’

Campbell shakes his head dumbly and notes the implicit threat.

‘Good for you,’ says Rookes and he stares back at Campbell for a long while letting the idea of getting shot linger in the air. ‘OK, well, things to do. To the room?’

Reluctantly Campbell acquiesces, seeing no other option. He considers bolting for the door, but the way Rookes is resting his right hand inside the sling and the suggestion about being shot tells him that Rookes has come armed. A crowded hotel lobby is certainly rather public and the streets of New York City, always well policed with armed officers, is no place to be pulling out a gun. But at the same time, Campbell knows full well that Rookes is not a man that lacks the will to act decisively. Moreover, he might have his goons in tow and watching the exits.

His spirits sag and the only thing that stops him collapsing with resignation is his fury at Lawson. Rookes, for all the things he’s done, has at least been on the level. Lawson however, has been leading Campbell into this trap from the moment he met him over the wrong champagne at the nightclub.

They ride the lift in silence and in the room Rookes tells him about the way it played out in Horner’s office. Campbell’s guess was good. With Rookes trying to cover he and Hogg, Vincent had been distracted and taken a shot; at Rookes, at the two men fleeing the scene, who knew? But Rookes had been swift of foot and got himself in the doorway before the trigger was pulled.

Horner had then been granted ample opportunity to take careful aim with his own handgun and put three rounds into the man’s chest and as he had sat there, drawing desperate ragged breaths and staring at the sucking chest wound, Rookes had picked himself up, retrieved his dropped gun, and administered the coup de grace with a shot to Vincent’s temple.

He was in no state to drive and give chase to Campbell and Hogg after that though and Horner had decided that getting him and the body tidied up was more important. Rookes got himself patched up whilst the two meatheads got busy on body disposal and carpet cleaning.

’No-one was chasing us?’ asked Campbell, oddly put out at the news.

Rookes shook his head. ‘Horner figured that there were more immediate concerns what with the corpse and getting this guy to catch him up on whatever it is he’d been doing.’ He points at Lawson like he’s an object, lumpen and inconvenient. ‘Besides, he’d had you guys arrange everything for automation right? So he didn’t need you on hand to execute the whole thing.’

‘So, why now? So fast?’

‘Well he might not need you both to carry out the whole scam for him, but that doesn’t mean he’s decided to get religion and turn the other cheek. And as I understand it, he’s not keen on witnesses. You didn’t think he’d really let you walk?’

‘Guess not. How so fast? He doesn’t have Hogg to do his thing.’

‘No, but our new friends and associates do, so to speak. Hari has people he can call to do that sort of thing. He’d picked up your credit card the moment they scanned it here.’

He nodded. Keep your head down, Hogg had said. Campbell found himself hoping that at least Hogg was doing a better job of it wherever he was.

A silence descended and Campbell found himself looking from Rookes to Lawson and not understanding. It was clear enough why Horner would have sent his security man in pursuit, but not so clear what Lawson was there for. He felt his anger start to flare again as he stared at Lawson, remembering the first time they’d met, the strange encounter he’d been set up for in the bathroom of the Mayfair wine bar, the way he’d been manipulating Lisa, the damage he’d wreaked. Even Vincent had died because of Lawson, a stranger to all of it. For what?

Rookes caught the look on his face and watched Lawson start to squirm in the chair.

‘Yes, him. We’re not entirely done it seems. Something about dealing with some of the CDS?’

Lawson nodded and cleared his throat. ‘Yeah. We need to tie down a couple of guys here in the city before the plan drops tomorrow. Horner wants to put us both in the room with the issuers to keep them from faltering.’

‘Faltering?’

‘Yes. There’s been a suggestion that they’re going to cancel the contracts. Might have heard some rumour about the veracity of the companies they’ve sold cover on.’

Hogg.

’You mean they’ve seen through the bullshit? How many? How many are getting twitchy?’

‘Just these two. No other word that there’s any other problems but Michael wants to plug all leaks. If these two cancel, news might find its way to other issuers and then there’s a problem.’

Rookes was nodding. ‘However all this works, this is the way Horner gets paid and that’s how Horner pays me. So it needs to work and you need to make sure of that.’

‘Two of Scorpio’s brightest, in town for meetings and making a stop off to reassure some business associates that all is well and rumour and hearsay are not the basis for operating a profitable business,’ says Lawson. He’s been coached by Horner, it seems plain enough, but then that’s been true all along. Campbell realises that he knows nothing about this man, has seen only an act from the beginning. Even now it’s a facade. Campbell wonders how many times he could punch him before Rookes would intervene. He fancies the security man might enjoy just sitting and watching for a little while.

‘The meetings are set for this afternoon, so Giles here will catch you up on the details of the deal so you’ll sound convincing when you’re keeping your doubters from doubting.’

Lawson pulls a sheaf of papers from his shoulder bag.

‘Pretty straightforward really. You know these companies inside out by now, and I know the CDS contracts so we’ve got it covered between us.’

They sit down at the table in a corner of the suite and Campbell tries to focus on the task at hand, the better to distract himself from thinking about landing knuckles on Lawson’s chin, or the hawk-like watch of Rookes in the armchair.

 

*

 

The first meeting is in a noisy sandwich bar in midtown. Campbell had expected some sumptuously appointed office in a shimmering high-rise but when he saw who they were meeting he figured it made sense.

The guy was young. Younger than he and Lawson at least and it soon became clear that he was a drone in whatever bank it was he worked for. One who was worried that he might have stepped outside his remit selling Lawson the insurance policy against an arcane and mysterious shell company out of the Caribbean.

Campbell stays quiet for the first few minutes whilst Lawson pays for sandwiches and chatters at the young man whilst he devours his salt beef on rye. They all have one, a classic for this joint as their companion has explained, clearly relishing meeting some real life Brits.

Lawson starts in by skirting around the topic of the contract they’ve struck and the company that the CDS covers and the young guy nods along, amiable enough.

Lawson hands over to Campbell then and suddenly it is his job to talk through the business details like they’re real.

‘Carl is it?’ asks Campbell and the other guy nods as he chews. ‘Carl, you’re probably hearing some of this twice right? What Giles is saying, you know a lot of this already. Can’t hurt to hear it again, get your head around it.’

‘Sure. I mean, it makes sense to me,’ Carl responds and swallows a mouthful, wipes mustard from his lip. ‘All the numbers Giles has run through. And the accounts too.’

‘The accounts?’ Lawson interrupts.

‘Yep. They came through late yesterday.’

Lawson nods and Carl keeps talking but Campbell’s not listening, not hearing all the words because the expression on Lawson’s face is one of deafening shock. Lawson didn’t send the accounts, Carl was not supposed to see them.

Campbell catches sight of Rookes sitting in the corner, sipping coffee, watchful and alert. A thought that’s been bugging Campbell since the two men arrived has resurfaced; that even if he does as he is bid and keeps Horner’s plans on track for him, just until the whole plan executes the following day, this still won’t end well for him. Rookes won’t walk away and Horner’s own instructions will be clear enough. What was it Rookes had said? He hasn’t got religion and decided to turn the other cheek.

Amen to that.

‘The accounts are light on detail, sure.’ Campbell says. ‘But that’s just because the company is young, right?’ and he addresses the question to Lawson as well as Carl. Everyone nods along, keen to convey to each other their deep and impressive business acumen.

’So any rumours you might have heard, you know they’re bullshit,’ says Campbell and takes a huge mouthful from the sandwich. ‘Mm!’ he says and raises and eyebrow.

‘Rumours?’ says Carl.

Lawson is shooting a look at Campbell that rebukes him the slip. Whatever rumours he may have mentioned earlier in the room, don’t repeat it to this guy. That’s how they start.

Campbell shrugs but his mouth is so full he can’t answer. Won’t.

Lawson stares at Campbell a moment longer and then back to Carl.

‘What Dan means is, all rumours are bullshit.’

‘What rumours though?’ Carl says, his teeth still stuck into this one.

Lawson laughs, but it is high-pitched, almost shrill, and it gives him away. ‘None! I mean, there’s none. Not if you’ve heard nothing, there’s nothing to hear. Dan’s saying that there’s always rumours in this market and you don’t pay them any mind. So just…’

Carl looks at Campbell as he works his way though the salt beef and searches for a napkin. Carl’s eyes are interrogating him the whole time and Campbell keeps his expression blank then fixes eye contact and half shrugs, half nods. Like he’s saying, that’s sort of what I meant and it fails perfectly to reassure Carl.

‘Guys, come on. Cut the shit. What goddamn rumours? I need to know this. You are not going to screw me.’

Carl’s previous demeanour of the nervous-but-keen young trader has gone now and there’s anger and anxiety instead, a hard edge. Lawson looks again at Campbell with barely disguised panic on his face at the small but fatal error that Campbell seems to have committed. He cannot fathom why such a basic slip would have been made nor why Campbell has not scrambled to fix it.

‘You aren’t going to get screwed Carl. You just need to hold your nerve,’ says Campbell, his gaze level and unblinking. ‘And ignore the chatter.’

The look lasts a few moments and Carl takes from it what Campbell wants him to. Lawson reads it differently, mostly because he wants to, and he seems to relax as Carl nods and stands.

‘OK guys, I guess we’re done.’

‘Good to meet you,’ smiles Lawson and thrusts out a hand.

Carl shakes it and then turns and shakes Campbell’s hand too. ‘Thank you,’ he says and leaves.

Campbell goes back to the sandwich as he watches Lawson stare at Carl’s back, a fixed smile in place should the other man look back. Campbell wonders if Carl really did take the proper interpretation from his remark about ignoring the chatter but he feels again the firmness of the handshake and the look in Carl’s eye.

‘Jesus Dan, that was close. Rumours? Talking about bloody rumours for God’s sake, way to spook the guy! I thought he was going to run back to his office and cancel the thing for a moment.’

Campbell shrugged a sorry and thought to himself; No, he walked.

Somewhere on the ocean he pictured Hogg, lounging on the sundeck, sipping a cocktail and reflecting on the way that ripples spread out in a pond when a stone is cast.

Campbell’s idea, back when they were expecting to be at Hogg’s terminal for another few hours, had been to sabotage the plan, but the plan had plans of its own. They’d been dragged off into the middle of Lawson’s mess before they could get anywhere and when Hogg had called him at the airport and asked about what to do Campbell had wanted to accept their mere escape as sufficient victory. He’d hoped, against his better judgement and the weight of his experience, that Horner might be prepared to let them walk when he realised he’d succeeded. He felt that Hogg deserved not to have to look over his shoulder too. But he’d misjudged it, and more importantly his own nerve had failed him.

Not so Hogg, it seemed. Lawson’s mention of rumours might have been off the cuff and certainly Carl was alarmed to hear that there might be something in the wind, but Lawson had not brought it up without some cause and Campbell knew now that Hogg had done something. Something small and subtle, but with far reaching implications. He’d understood enough from what the two of them had discussed in the apartment to know that it wouldn’t take much.

Campbell had told him that he expected the CDS issuers to turn their backs if they got wind of the truth about Horner’s fake companies and Hogg had taken that idea and tossed a stone in the pond, sending out ripples.

‘Are we good?’ said Rookes as he appeared at Lawson’s shoulder.

Lawson nodded and stood.

‘All good,’ says Campbell. ‘Carl’s on board.’

 

[] SEVENTY TWO

 

They return to Campbell’s hotel room early and Campbell and Rookes watch Lawson jabbing at his phone. Their second meeting has cancelled and is not responding to Lawson’s determined efforts to speak with him.

Within twenty more minutes word comes through that not only is the meeting cancelled but the CDS as well. The contract has been cancelled by the issuer and at this late stage it is clear that nothing can be retrieved or resurrected.

‘Just let it go Giles. It’s only one contract. The others are all in place,’ says Campbell.

‘This going to be a problem?’ asks Rookes shifting his stiff shoulder and wincing.

‘No,’ Campbell says emphatically. Lawson doesn’t look so sure but he’s not quite as despondent as he was when the news came through.

‘This sort of thing happens under normal circumstances anyway,’ Campbell says. ‘Never mind what we’re trying to pull off. One contract out of how many?’

Lawson looks like that argument is convincing enough to latch onto and though he does not answer the question Campbell asks, he does nod. ‘More than we needed actually, more than Michael asked for.’

‘There you are. A couple for contingency. For precisely this.’

‘Yeah. Just worried that… what if he talks? What if one of the others get wind of it and asks why it was pulled?’

‘What? That’s nuts. Market this size and one contract gets pulled? Nobody will notice a thing Giles. It’s one guy closing out a few trades so he can have a tidy set of accounts at the end of the week and ask his boss for a bonus. Nothing more.’

Lawson considers that and lets go his doubts. He smiles and looks relieved that they’ve done what they needed to.

‘OK, so everything’s on course and rosy? Let’s get some drinks. They’re on you Campbell,’ Rookes says and it looks like the wounded shoulder is demanding something medicinal. He can’t have had much time to get the hole in his shoulder patched after Vincent shot him, thinks Campbell. Shame.

Campbell calls down for champagne and whisky and then adds a food order too. Lobster for Lawson and cheeseburgers for he and Rookes.

As the booze does its work, Lawson loosens up and begins to convince himself of the great result they’ve had and the success they will enjoy tomorrow when Horner’s plan is finally completed. Rookes seems to be in less pain from his shoulder and as the evening progresses makes a few calls that result in company. Two women join them. A blonde and a brunette, both statuesque and elegant and the look on Lawson’s face is a picture to behold when they join the party and suggest the need for more champagne.

Campbell makes friendly conversation and finds the two women charming and fun but although neither of them looks remotely like Lisa, he is reminded of her with every smile, every hand on a knee or arm, every playful remark. It is a wound too raw and it is all he can do not to be rude or dismissive.

Rookes intervenes, waving the whisky bottle at them all.

‘Shots!’ he declares and they all gather at the table to drink. He pours and they drink, pours and they drink. There are grimaces and shouts and another round.

The bottle is half empty before Lawson drags the women with him back toward the sofa, protesting that they’ve had enough and need a break. Campbell stays where he is and watches as Lawson initiates an awkward conversation with the women about which of them he’s going to take to bed.

Rookes pushes a glass across the table.

‘You know, I really would enjoy seeing you take that little son of a bitch apart.’

‘What?’

Rookes nods in Lawson’s direction. ‘Since we arrived, you’ve had a look on you like you’re a heartbeat from tearing his throat out. Admirable self control for someone to keep such anger in check.’

Campbell eyeballs Lawson as he smiles and laughs and wraps his arms around the two beautiful women faking their enjoyment.

‘You weren’t outwitted Daniel. So don’t be so hard on yourself. You were just outnumbered. It’s impressive you got this far, but you’re just up against too many.’

Campbell frowns as the glass is pushed closer.

‘Don’t chicken out like that piece of shit,’ Rookes says, nodding at Lawson.

Campbell rolls his eyes like he isn’t going to fall for such a cheap shot, but then looks at Lawson and feels his temper flare and he picks it up and downs it.

‘No more,’ he says.

‘OK,’ Rookes replies. ‘You’ll regret that.’

‘I already do Rookes.’

‘No,’ he says and leans in close. ‘That last one. That was just for you my friend. A special little mixer from Michael Horner for you to enjoy. Because there is only one thing left for you to do now.’

Campbell’s vision is swimming suddenly, his head heavy on his shoulders.

‘Oops!’ He can hear Rookes’ voice as if from an increasing distance. ’Looks like someone can’t handle his liquor.’

The chair seems to shift and rise beneath him and the room suddenly starts to tilt at an odd angle and the floor pitches upward toward him as his swimming vision goes dark.

 

[] SEVENTY THREE

 

Whatever it was Rookes slipped in his drink leaves him with a pounding head, although he’d downed enough of the champagne and whisky to have guaranteed that anyway. Nonetheless he wakes with a thick head and his eyes struggle to adjust to the sunlight in the room.

He sits up and at first cannot remember how the night wound up. Did he drink himself into a stupor? Did he wind up with one of the girls and if so, what damage might that have inflicted on his wallet and his conscience?

He sits and gets his bearings. He’s on the sofa and is alone. Empty bottles dot the room and the curtains are open on the sunrise over the city. He’s in yesterday’s clothes, which tells him that perhaps he didn’t wind up with either of the girls and then he recalls, sharp and clear, what Rookes did with his drink. He’s confused for a moment. Why spike his drink and then leave him unharmed? What would that achieve?

His answer lies in the next room. He stands in the doorway open mouthed and wide eyed. Lawson sits at the foot of the bed, his face grey and waxy and perfectly still. A crusted black line of blood runs from both nostrils and white powder flecks his chest and the dark cotton of his boxer shorts, the only item of clothing he wears.

Behind him across the bed lies the brunette, naked and pale in the morning light. Her eyes are open and her throat is a patchwork of livid bruising; greens and reds and deep dark blues.

She had told them to call her Rochelle, and she had died in a hotel room with strangers that did not know her real name. Campbell stared at Lawson dead on the floor and back at the girl on the bed and understood what Rookes had done to him.

He would be found in this room with drugs and bodies and a file of documents that explained all of the fraudulent trading that will have taken place that day leading to a string of collapsed companies and an imploding bank. The documents will bear his name and the hotel room will be booked and held against his passport and credit card.

Here in a country that dealt with large-scale white-collar crime almost the way it dealt with murders, he would be guilty of both.

Horner could have had him killed by Rookes, could have put a bullet in his head, or something else in his drink than a strong sedative, but he’d wanted revenge. True revenge, where Campbell would feel all the pain and torment that Horner had felt these past years. He would be ruined and locked away in an unforgiving place, cut off from his loved ones and frightened every minute of every day. He would know Horner’s pain a thousand times over. Just killing him was no longer enough, not after all that had happened. Horner wanted to destroy him and have him live to know how it felt.

Campbell’s stomach flipped and he ran for the bathroom, vomiting into the toilet and feeling the acid burn his throat and the tears burn his eyes.

So this was rock bottom. He had no options, no hope. He couldn’t run, not far anyway. As soon as housekeeping saw this…

He could check out and get his passport but he’d never make a plane in time once the bodies were discovered. He knew nobody in New York that he could call to appeal for help. No one he could hide with.

So what now? Sit and wait? Hope that the truth would set him free? And who would believe his truth?

Wait. He might not know anyone in New York to call, but they didn’t need to be in New York.

He dashed back into the main suite again and looked for his phone. With each second now he expected the knock on the door of housekeeping and imagined the horrified scream of the maid as she saw the bodies and the drugs and the frantic man with the bags under his eyes running about the room in a frenzy.

It wasn’t on the sofa where he’d slept, wasn’t on the table.

Tentatively he went back into the bedroom and tried not to look at Lawson’s haunting face, blood caked and eyes rolled back. What had Rookes done to him? Forced the coke up his nose? Cut it with something nasty, or just let Lawson’s own unchecked appetite finish him off?

The girl looked almost beautiful in her repose. Slender and toned, her skin was like alabaster, her blue eyes catching the sunlight from the window, staring off in vain hope. He saw the full smooth curves of her naked body and it felt like a whole new violation, one that she couldn’t even fight. He looked away and searched the corners of the room, mouthing a silent apology to her.

Nothing.

Back in the main suite he tried to catch his breath. He prayed that Rookes had at least let the blonde go before he got to work on the other two. There was certainly no sign of her. He hoped too that Rookes was long gone. The chaos he’d wreaked was one thing, but at least Campbell was still breathing and there could be no doubting the man’s pitiless lethality.

If he could only find his phone and make the call he needed to, he might stand a sliver of a chance.

He began to pick his way around the edge of the room and found himself glancing again at the clock on the wall. What time would housekeeping come? Eight a.m.? Nine? He went to the door and looked through the fish-eye lens to an empty corridor and felt a twinge of temptation just to pull the door open and bolt. He looked down at the handle and noticed the cardboard sign hanging from it, reversible and hooked over the handle. Do Not Disturb on one side, Please Clean on the other. He popped open the door and dropped the Do Not Disturb sign into place, double checked it was facing the right way, and then closed and locked the door.

He took two steps back into the room and spotted the phone from this new angle, sitting on the sideboard, tucked behind a champagne bucket.

Excited, he snatched it up and pulled up the number he needed.

It rang and rang.

‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Answer it Caspar.’

Nothing. It rang until it stopped and there was no voicemail facility on the service. He dialled again and listened to the taunting trill of the phone going unanswered and felt his tiny ray of hope blinking out. Tried again. Nothing.

He dropped onto the sofa, distraught. The Do Not Disturb sign might buy him some time, but no matter how much of that he had, he could not figure what kind of exit strategy he might come up with. Horner and Rookes had tied everything up. Lawson was disposable, especially after whatever trouble he’d brought down upon them all in Grand Cayman. He’d got what was coming to him. Campbell would take the fall for them all, guilty of too many things to even hope of getting clear. Caught in a hotel room, surrounded by corpses and drugs and the evidence of a huge financial fraud. Campbell felt nauseous.

As his panic rose, so did the bile in his stomach and he got up and made for the bathroom again. After a moment of trying to control it, he realised it would not be controlled and he began to heave up his stomach into the toilet, retching hard until his throat burned and his eyes stung all over again.

Eventually it eased and he reached up to hit the flush and then sank back down to the polished tile floor and reached for the toilet paper to wipe his chin.

The shower curtain was drawn all the way across the bath, but hanging outside rather than inside it. As he dabbed at his face, he frowned as he looked at it. Such a small detail, but somehow important. Odd, the way that it struck him.

He shifted onto all fours and crawled across the floor to the edge of the bath and grabbed the curtain, pausing a beat before he pulled it back.

The zipping sound of the curtain runners cut through him and the sight of the dead blonde took a long time to register because his brain could not process what he was seeing. He could not seem to understand why she was underneath the water. That didn’t make sense. You couldn’t do that, not without…

 

*

 

His eyes were closed when the phone rang and it shocked him out of his seat.

‘Daniel.’

‘Caspar?’

‘How are you?’

‘Oh Christ!’ he said, almost shouting with the relief. ‘Oh my God. Caspar. Thank Christ. I am in it so deep. I’m so screwed.’

‘What? Calm down.’

‘You remember you told me to keep my head down?’

‘Yeah. How’s that going?’

‘I’m in a New York hotel room with two dead prostitutes, a dead Lawson, a load of drugs and a pile of documents that implicate me in a giant financial scandal.’

‘Wow… That’s not really what I had in mind.’

Campbell laughed then despite himself. Penned in by all this horror, it seemed so ridiculous it was laughable.

‘And you’re still there?’

‘Look, I can’t run because I had to hand over my passport and credit card to check in. If I leave that behind I can’t get anywhere, I’ll be done. The room is booked in my name. My name is all over the paperwork for the different fake companies…’

‘Hang on. Go slower. Which hotel?’

Campbell told him.

‘Give me a minute. Tell me about the dead people. What the hell happened there?’

‘I don’t know. I mean, I do know, I just didn’t witness it. Rookes and Lawson turned up at the hotel the morning after I got here. They had one of Hari’s guys pick me up by the credit card scan at check-in and must have been on the next flight. I got dragged to a meeting and then back to the hotel and we celebrated.’

‘Meeting?’

‘Yes, one of the CDS brokers that Lawson had bought from. He wanted reassurance. Worried that he was insuring a fake company. I kind of let him know he was right.’

‘That’s interesting. I was wondering if that would work. I popped a couple of posts on some financial blogs and news sites naming some of Horner’s companies and suggesting all was not what it seemed. Guess it got to where it needed to.’

‘Ha! Well if he wasn’t spooked before, he was after I got done.’

‘What did you say to him?’

‘I was subtle. Told him that the rumours were bullshit and he was suddenly crapping himself. What rumours? Oh my God, there are rumours?’

‘Nice. Let’s hope he doesn’t keep that to himself.’

‘Let’s hope. Look, Caspar, what am I going to do mate? Any ideas? I’m so screwed. The second housekeeping turn up I’ll be toast. I’ll be in handcuffs and in a cell inside an hour.’

‘Can you get all the paperwork together? Find a shredder or a fire?’

‘Uh, God knows.’

‘Let me put it another way,’ said, Hogg, his tone hardening. ‘Get all the paperwork together, then get out of the room and get it burnt or shredded. Then you need to get your ass out of New York.’

Campbell puts the phone on speaker and sets it down as he begins gathering the briefcase Lawson brought, making sure that all the paperwork is in there and snatching up any stray documents that had been taken out the day before and left on the side.

‘Yeah but how the hell do I do that? How do I even get out of the hotel? My passport’s on the front desk. The room’s in my name.’

There’s silence from the phone and after a minute turns into two and he’s sure there are no more stray pieces of incriminating paper he picks up the handset again.

‘Caspar? You still there?’

Silence.

‘Hogg? Hello?’

‘Yes, yes,’ comes the irritable reply. ‘I’m here, I’m doing something hang on.’

Campbell hangs on, shifting nervously from foot to foot as he scans the room again for anything that he should not leave behind. It occurs to him that there might be something in the bedroom and hesitates, reluctant to be near the cold bodies.

Finally though he musters the courage to do so, once the fear of leaving something incriminating overrides the fear of seeing them again, dead eyed and accusing. He takes the phone, setting it on the side, speaker on.

There’s nothing to be found as he checks the units and the carpet around the bed, no reason to suppose there’s anything hidden beneath sheets, though for a crazy moment he has a panicked thought that maybe Rookes has planted something there out of sight, perhaps wedged beneath the mattress.

He dismisses the thought as irrational and illogical; there’s an abundance of evidence to be found throughout the suite, the bodies, the drugs, the paperwork. Why would Rookes hide something under the mattress with all this in plain sight? But the thought is in there now, wedged tight like a doorstop, so he moves to the bed and kneels, sliding a hand in and feeling around.

There’s nothing in reach from one side, nothing when he shifts to the foot of the bed but as his arm pushes deeper inside the movement of the mattress shifts Lawson’s limp body where it leans against the bed.

Campbell freezes and pulls his arm back but this just serves to move the mattress again as it settles back into position and the movement rocks Lawson a little. There’s a shift in position, to the side, toward Campbell, and it pushes a little air from the lungs. Campbell doesn’t know this, just hears the sound and watches as the body begins to lean slowly toward him.

He thinks to grab the shoulder and stabilise Lawson where he is but then thinks that there are a lot of reasons not to touch him so he recoils and scrambles away across the floor as Lawson’s slumping form begins to move quicker and then suddenly thuds into the carpet.

‘What was that?’ says Hogg.

‘Nothing,’ Campbell replies after a pause as he tries to compose himself.

‘Noisy, for nothing.’

‘I just… dropped something. Forget it.’

‘OK, just be careful.’

‘Be quicker,’ he says but it’s a plea not an order. ‘How you going?’

‘Well for a start you didn’t book the room. Not that one anyway.’

‘I did, I told you.’

‘No, I mean, I’m getting into their system and in a few more minutes it is going to say you have a whole other room. The suite you’re in, Lawson booked that.’

‘Wait, what?’ Campbell took a moment to process what Hogg was saying.

‘Yeah, their records will show that you stayed in Room 212 and that Lawson took the suite.’

‘Jesus, you’re fast.’

‘Yeah, they need to upgrade some of their online booking systems. Lucky for you.’

‘Wait though. They won’t have his passport or credit card. Won’t that look wrong?’

‘Sure, but it’s not your problem if their front desk messed up. Nothing to do with some random, unconnected guy in 212.’

‘I guess.’

‘So you ready to move?’

There’s nothing much more to gather up. His holdall is barely unpacked and he was fully clothed when Rookes knocked him out with the spiked drink.

‘Of course, yes,’ he says, evaluating where he is now. ‘I’ll clear out, take the documents and they’ll find Lawson dead from doing so much coke he flipped out and killed the hookers.’

‘I’ll see if can blank their CCTV files for a day or two back too. But that’s going to be harder to do.’

‘Great idea, work your magic. Wait. What about fingerprints and stuff?’

‘What? Where?’

‘Everywhere. All over the room. My fingerprints will be everywhere,’ Campbell said, his panic rising again.

‘Yeah, maybe. Then again, so will every guest who’s stayed there for the past month or two. I mean, it’s a hotel room for God’s sake. With a guy coked to death and a strangled hooker next to him. No, they’re not going to be looking for anyone else Dan. Now move.’

 

*

 

He moved. He took everything he’d brought with him and shoved the briefcase that Lawson had brought with him into his holdall.

The guy on the desk gives him a neutral look when he tells him that he has misplaced his room key and that he didn’t even sleep in the room last night. This is the city that never sleeps after all, so the guy must get that from time to time. Campbell lays on the eye-rolls and the silly-me routine, bumbling Englishman.

He watches the man tap the keyboard, print out a bill for room 212 and accept Campbell’s cash payment and tip and hands the passport and credit card back to him.

Campbell melts into the crowds on the sidewalk and drifts along streets, thinking about his next move.

Hogg has sprung him out of an awful trap and he’s right to suggest that when the police get involved they’re unlikely to go looking much further than the bodies they have, a self explanatory situation that will require no TV style crime scene wizardry to understand. Finance guy from London with more money than sense in town for business, overdoes the cocaine and booze, freaks out and kills the hookers. Maybe she laughed at his little limey cock or maybe he just likes beating up on women and couldn’t stop once the coke got him started. Just a tiny amount of digging on Lawson should reveal he’s a young man with issues.

If Hogg can engineer a CCTV “malfunction” there would be no visual record of Campbell entering the suite with Lawson and the others and the computer would note that if for some reason anyone did actually ask about Daniel Campbell, he stayed in room 212 and the guy on the desk that processed his check-out would remember that he didn’t even sleep there that night, presumably got lucky somewhere, lost his key card in the chaos and came back to settle up and take his passport.

And yet, and yet.

Perhaps it was the hangover or maybe the cumulative effect of having been so relentlessly on his guard so long, but he didn’t feel relaxed and in the clear. Not yet.

Indeed, the more he thought on it, the more realised that he may never get that feeling again. Not hanging around in New York after that close a shave, and not with Michael Horner out there in the world, peddling his particular brand of unforgiving evil.

 

[] SEVENTY FOUR

 

Financial markets operated on something more important than money. More essential than dollars or euros, pounds or yen, the one thing that could make or ruin any organisation was confidence.

Not the sort that manifested in the cocky, sharp-suited traders in New York or London, or the type instilled by a large bonus or being headhunted by a competitor.

Confidence in the other party. If one company had confidence that their money was safe with another, then everything was fine. If the market had confidence that the shares in XYZ Trading were backed by accurate and reliable accounting figures and the profits were real and demonstrable, then the share price of XYZ would continue to trade high.

The moment that confidence failed however, things looked very different. If people start to lose faith in the security of a bank, that bank would find its access to capital markets shrink or close entirely. Or people would begin to withdraw their funds from it. Soon enough, once the ratio of debts to deposits began to skew too far in the wrong direction there would be a run on the bank and that bank would collapse.

When investors lost trust in the veracity of a company’s accounts or trading statements and began to suspect that it was in trouble, they’d dump their shares and the price would collapse, eventually taking the whole company with it.

This was the factor that had allowed Horner’s whole scheme to be conjured up from almost nothing. Some seed capital and a greased palm had got him a banking licence in an offshore financial centre and from there he could build his pyramid, the bank at the top, layering capital in all those other fake companies with the various names he’d dreamed up whilst staring out the window of his rented house.

The bank had – in the absence of any obvious evidence to the contrary – looked real and had started operating in the way a bank might be expected to. Lending to and investing in other companies. Those companies gained a sheen of credibility from that transaction, and from there he built the illusion of normality with the pattern of trading and investment that they all began to engage in. Never mind that the only trading that they did was with each other, a closed loop of fakery and fraud. They wouldn’t be around long enough for people to catch on or to spot the charade before it played to its conclusion. So small and unassuming were these firms in the grand scheme of things that they would catch no-one’s attention. Even if someone did take an interest, with such conveniently small amounts of issued shares, it would be impossible to get their hands on any stock; it would never be offered on the open market, having only changed hands within the loop.

Then, once the baying mob of vengeful, dangerous men the world over who wanted Horner dead after the humiliation of the last time he had attempted to do them a favour and had instead cost them all a small fortune, once they had their instructions and their fake stock in hand, the final steps of the scam would play out.

They would all place buy-orders into the system for these few company stocks. With so few of them available for sale this would bid up the price of the various shares, and the capital used for it would come from Horner’s bank and the trading accounts that Hogg had set up for all these men.

Then, they would place sell orders for the stocks they held and receive payment as they would any other such transaction. The payments would be routed to their own accounts, thereby shedding the suspicious appearance of the trading account in the tiny offshore bank, and taking on a semblance of respectability of the proceeds of a successful investment. They would have their money at last, and Horner will have secured their forgiveness through compensation.

More sell orders would follow, but this time with no buyers, the orders would go unfilled and the share price would fall until the companies had no material value.

In turn, the bank that held investments and debt with these companies would find its balance-sheet destroyed in short order and be left no option but to declare itself insolvent and cease operations.

Horner would step in then and claim his own prize. The Credit Default Swaps that Lawson had so diligently purchased would all pay out at this point, the financial institution that they were designed to insure having failed, thus triggering the claim. Horner would collect his winnings, the gamble of a lifetime coming good.

It was meticulous in the planning and preparation and he had ensured that by delegating the different elements to different people that his own name was absent from nearly every aspect. It would take a forensic accountant to find evidence in any paper trail of his own involvement. At the same time he had retained ultimate control of the whole operation from the top, commanding it like a Field Marshall, giving out orders and then claiming the glory of victory for himself, never once muddying his boots on the field of battle.

It was hours away now. Years in the conception and planning, building it carefully. From idea, to schematic, from framework to this full, final soaring construction, rendered real and tangible, long enough to make him free of worry of every kind.

Then it would collapse on itself, vanishing into dust, just a fleeting memory to remain of what had stood so briefly.

This calm before the storm was unbearable though, the final excruciating countdown.

Rookes had let him know that he had completed his assignment. Lawson had been eliminated, one less witness, one less liability. The scene had been set for Campbell’s downfall too. Exquisitely, intractably complete in all details, he would never explain away the dead women, the dead colleague. The drugs and the documents incriminating in the extreme.

There would be no quick release for Daniel Campbell now, no silent end at the ocean floor, no merciful bullet to the head. Horner’s bitter hatred had curdled so poisonously that simple death was no longer any revenge at all. He needed Campbell to suffer. He needed Campbell to know the fear and the torment that he had known these past three years. Cut off from any friends and family, in fear for your life every waking moment, terror permeating your dreams. He would repay what Campbell had inflicted on him with interest. Trapped in a very real prison, he would be prey to savage predators and they would afford no pity. He would live with the powerful, suffocating regret of ever having crossed Michael Horner. His name would be the last on Campbell’s lips.

But even savouring the taste of victory and vengeance could not keep his thoughts from the agonising wait and the minutes brought frustration and doubt as they stretched into hours. No matter that he knew the plan and the system that had been put in place, still he wondered if something might go awry at this late stage, so close to the end.

A nagging, uncomfortable feeling of deja vu had burrowed itself beneath his skin like a tick that had begun to feed and grow fat. This sense of anticipation, of helplessly watching and waiting, was not unlike the thing that had landed him here. The elaborate blackmail plot and the fraud that sat behind it, the troublesome young man who had appeared from nowhere and eventually pulled the whole thing crashing to the ground.

He had felt then, before his ruin, this same excitement and persistent fear as he awaited the last few pieces of the puzzle to slot unto place.

That time of course, he had underestimated Daniel Campbell and had trusted to fate. This time, he had built the whole thing around him, a yoke around his neck, a block of concrete for his sinking feet. He had played with him from the beginning, had him beaten and in fear and on the edge of exhaustion and paranoia. He had dragged him here and almost drowned him, had killed the girl that he had fallen for, just as he was supposed to. He had put Campbell at the centre of this huge fraudulent scheme and now, provoked by the other man’s tenacity and defiance, had added murder to the list of things for which he would stand accused. The yoke had become a noose.

So why did he still feel so sick with nerves?

 

[] SEVENTY FIVE

 

Campbell is on a train when it happens. He sits aboard a long northbound train out of New York as it snakes its way up along the Hudson River and through the Adirondack Mountains toward the Canadian border.

He tries to watch the scenery when there is scenery to watch and tries to read the paperback he’s picked up at the station when there isn’t. All the time his mind wanders back to what may or may not be happening with Horner’s scheme.

The final part is set up to unfold as everyone follows their instructions for trading at the right time and price. What is not in the plan is any outside influence. The trades and companies are inside that loop and closed to other market players. Or should be.

Except that Hogg has planted a seed or two of doubt and rumours have begun to spread. Rumours that Carl had heard and will have repeated. Campbell is certain that Carl will have quietly cancelled the CDS contract he had arranged with Horner and wonders whether he will also have passed his information on down the line. Will he have been able to resist the temptation to share it? The temptation to be the guy in the know, the guy doing a solid for some colleague or associate elsewhere in the industry.

Campbell knew that with enough of a tug on the thread, the whole thing would unravel. If other CDS contracts were pulled or voided, word could get to equity traders who might spot the trading activity in Horner’s firms and see it as suspicious or even as an opportunity to exploit. Knowing that the red-flag of a cancelled CDS – a red flag because suddenly the creditworthiness of these firms was being systematically thrown in the trash – meant you could follow this into the share price and expect a fall. You could trade on that by short-selling the stock and that in turn would push the price down. That would be the opportunity a trader would see. Then there would be sell orders in the system that were not supposed to be there, not anticipated by the plan.

In pretty short order it would need only a handful of traders in the real world to place a handful of trades to destroy the whole plan. The plan relied on the closed-loop controlling the prices and the timings. Remove that control – open the loop – and everything was vulnerable and a fast-moving market was ruthless with the vulnerable.

For much of the journey he was out of range of a decent phone signal and as he neared Canada and the light began to fade from the day he finally surrendered to his curiosity and checked his email account.

Sifting through spam he spotted two that made his stomach jump. Steve’s private email address was there and a short message. ‘Hope all is well buddy and you’re enjoying some Caribbean sunshine with the gorgeous new girlfriend – assume you went after all, since I never heard back from my “don’t get on the plane” message. But I do hate being right. Something very strange is happening with your stocks today. Get in touch. Steve.’

He felt a lump rise in his throat at the mention of Lisa, but he pushed it all back down and blinked away the image of her from his mind.

The other email was from Hogg and the subject line was empty.

He opened it and read the single word.

Meltdown.

 

[] SEVENTY SIX

 

He takes a cab across the border after the train stops on the American side. He’d half expected the train to pull up in full view of the Falls when they got to Niagara but the reality is a lot less eye-catching. A nondescript train station at the end of the line.

The border crossing takes next to no time as he hands over his documents to the guard and he’s so tense and braced for something awful that he can barely croak out a Thank you when he’s waved through.

He finds a hotel with a vacancy and pays in cash. They don’t ask him for his passport here and he’s happy enough to be in a place that’s a little more relaxed about such things, even if it also means they’re equally relaxed about comfort and cleanliness. It is only for the night though and he will be away in the morning.

He tries to check out what he can about the day’s events but from his phone handset he does not have access to the right systems and databases. In the end he doesn’t need to, texting Hogg to call him and getting an almost instant response.

‘You clear?’ asks Hogg.

‘I’m fine.’

‘Don’t tell me where.’

‘Of course.’

‘You seen nothing then?’

‘Only your email.’

‘OK, well, there’s not too much more to say than that. I got a sign that something was up late morning, watching some of the trading patterns and the orders being placed. Didn’t quite fit with what we should have been seeing. Thought maybe people weren’t following the instructions right, maybe they’d forgotten. But then it seemed like there was too much going on, not too little. Then it really accelerated. By the other side of lunchtime it was all done.’

‘Jesus, that fast?’

‘That fast. All the CDS are wiped out and all the share prices got shorted to oblivion. There’s nothing left.’

Campbell was silent awhile then, thinking on what that might mean. Horner would be ruined after that, his tarnished reputation now beyond repair. The various parties that stood to profit would be baffled by their lack of a result and might in turn begin to suspect that they had once again been made fools of by Michael Horner, even if they had not technically lost money this time.

The closed-loop nature of the scam would mean that it would all take place in a confined space within the market. No life-savings will have been on the line, no diligently saved pension fund, or the inheritance of a dear departed grandparent for the sake of a college education scorched to cinders in the furnace of the day’s trading.

It had come from nothing and gone back to nothing and any of the outside participants will have been big banks or hedge funds, institutional traders and those who could absorb any losses or scarcely notice the small profits that the small trades had brought. There would be many unfilled trade orders too, that would have pushed the price of the shares lower but ultimately done nothing more.

‘Hard to believe that’s it,’ he says.

‘Yeah, well, not quite. This won’t go unnoticed everywhere. Horner will need to deal with it in some way. And I daresay that Hari and Dusan won’t be content just walking away.’

‘My God,’ said Campbell, imagining their fury. ‘Well they’ll go for Horner first.’

‘Yup. That’s clearly what he’s thinking too.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘He’s skipped out. Moved fast when he saw things coming unstuck and bolted.’

‘How do you know this?’

‘You’re forgetting how much access I had. Horner had me doing all sorts for him in the run up to this. He’s been living under a fake ID this whole time anyway, so as to stay out of sight of people like Hari.’

‘Of course. Figures.’

’So it should come as no surprise that he had others in reserve. I was tracking the three other names that I knew he had set up to use. I mean, he never said what they were for but it was clear what they were. In hindsight it’s clear that he’d created a lot of covers just in case one of the guys he was hiding from tracked him down.’

‘You kept notes?’ asked Campbell with a smile.

‘Sort of. Guy hired me for my technical creativity and ability to operate discreetly. So, you know… I did that.’

‘And what? One of those names booked a flight out of Grand Cayman that day?’

’Not quite,’ replied Hogg. ‘I mean, one of those names got on a plane that day. Flight was booked almost ten days ago.’

‘Can’t fault him for planning.’

‘Indeed. He covered his arse in case things went wrong. I guess he did learn a lesson from last time.’

‘Me too. Wherever he’s going now, whatever he plans to do next, I’m not safe. The only thing that drives him is his monstrous ego and he will not accept any outcome where he is bettered by someone he considers beneath him. I’ve done it twice to him now, slipped his trap and left him worse off. He isn’t going to let that go, no matter how long it takes him to get to me next time round.’

There was silence on the line for a moment. Hogg exhaled loudly. ‘Well, if you’re saying what I think you are, you’re going to ask me where he’s gone.’

Campbell said nothing. The very idea shocked him even as he realised its inescapable truth.

‘You are saying what I think you are, right Dan?’

‘One of us has to end it. His decision is already made.’

‘Dan. This is not the same as just bringing down a fraud scheme and screwing up his grand plan.’

‘No, it’s not. But I don’t see any other way.’

‘Look, just take a breath. You have all the money you need to disappear, for a long time. Do all the things you need to, you know. New name, new home. I can help with that, get you set up.’

‘Why should I?’ he snapped at Hogg. ‘Why am I running? Why am I giving everything up and hiding? I can’t live like that Caspar.’

‘But if you do this, you’ll have to live with it too. Are you sure you can?’

‘Better than living with not doing it.’

‘Just think it over is all I’m saying. Be sure before you act.’

‘I know Caspar. I already am. It’s the only way it will stop. And it’s the only way I can repay her.’

Somewhere down the line, he hears a muffled cough but cannot make out if Hogg has spoken or not in response to the mention of Lisa.

‘OK,’ says Hogg softly after a pause. ‘I’ll find him.’

‘Good. Thank you. And do it fast. Hari will be as pissed with me as with Horner. He’ll be looking for us both.’

‘Why not just let Hari have him then?’ says Hogg, brightening at the prospect of stepping back and letting someone else do the job.

‘You’re not worried that Hari’s guys will beat you to the punch on this one?’

‘I’m several steps ahead, but nice try with the attempt to provoke my sense of professional pride.’

‘Do this for me Caspar. Please.’

‘I’ve already said yes. I’ve got him flying into Heathrow at the moment under the name of Elliot Bennett. I’ll see if Elliot Bennett owns or rents any property in London, see if he’s heading for a bolthole. Maybe one of the other pseudonyms has something. I guess you need to head for London.’

‘I’ll get moving in the morning.’

By the time he wakes up, Hogg has emailed him a breakdown of his night’s work. He is booked on a flight out of Toronto that afternoon, as well as three other flights throughout the day, all of which are decoys for the benefit of Hari’s men scanning for Daniel Campbell’s traceable movements. He is variously heading to Frankfurt from New York, to Lima, Peru from Washington DC and as a mischievous fuck-you to Hari and Dusan, to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. They may track all or none of those and they may or may not have the reach to try to intercept him in all those cities, but it’s enough to confuse the trail, and enough moreover to tell them that he knows that they’ll be looking.

In addition to that Hogg has carefully, and triumphantly, explained that whilst the Elliot Bennett lead went no further than the plane ticket, another of Horner’s aliases was named as controlling director of a company that owned one single asset; a flat in West London. There was an address.

 

[] SEVENTY SEVEN

 

He does not head there straight from the airport when he lands, though he is desperate to get there fast for fear of losing the trail. Instead he makes a phone call and then heads east across the city to get what he needs. He knows no-one else to ask for this and does not know what sort of reception he’ll get after so long.

The man he meets with he has not seen in over three years, and in truth did not expect ever to see again, but circumstances have forced him into doing things he’d rather not.

It is brief and straightforward and does not open with the warm embrace of old friends nor conclude with fondness. Daniel Campbell made this acquaintance in a time and place that seems a world away from now, but is perhaps not so very different.

George Gresham expresses surprise and exercises caution but once satisfied that Campbell has no ulterior motives, does what he is asked. Campbell saved his daughter’s life once. It is a debt that Gresham considers impossible to fully repay.

Campbell thanks him for agreeing and passes an address to Gresham.

‘I need you to pull up outside and then for all of you to get out of the car and make for the front door. Ring the bell, bang on the door. Make some noise.’

Gresham’s brow wrinkles a little. ‘What you up to?’

‘That’s it. That’s all. Just be there.’

‘You got yourself into trouble again? You got that same look in your eyes, afraid again.’

‘I attract it George.’

‘Just ring a doorbell?’

‘Make your presence known is all. I’ll do the rest.’

Gresham nods. ‘If there’s something need’s doing…’ he says, small but unmistakable emphasis on the word ‘something’.

‘I’ll do it,’ he says, shaking his head. ‘How’s Angie?’

‘Good. She’s getting married.’

‘That’s nice.’

‘Don’t push your luck. I’ve said yes, you can fuck off trying to twist my arm with all that.’

‘Just asking George.’

‘We’ll be there.’

When he takes his leave and heads west again, he feels the alien weight in his jacket, its odd angular shape and hardness. He feels another weight building too, low in his stomach, knotted and heavy. Can’t be helped though. No backing out now.

When he gets there he is struck by the down at heel nature of the place, realises he was half expecting some grand Georgian townhouse somewhere upmarket. Somewhere more befitting of Horner. But then that is surely the point of this, to look unlike the sort of place you would find him. He pulls his phone from his pocket and sends a message. “Go”.

It is not a secure building. It has been selected for its affordability and its anonymity. He finds the front door unlocked and follows the stairs up to the third floor and stands staring at the closed door, listening.

For a brief spell there is nothing to be heard and he feels a flash of relief that perhaps he will not have to go through with it, much as he knows he must. But then there is the shuffle of someone moving about beyond. He waits for it to fade and then he levels a kick at the point of the lock and lands it with all the pent up tension that has been boiling for days.

He hears the involuntary squeal of fear that Horner makes and follows the sound. If he has armed himself here as he did in Cayman, he has certainly not had time to grab it. He is not expecting to be found here. Not yet.

‘You bloody fool,’ spits Horner, angry and frightened at once. Angry because he’s frightened. ‘You bloody fool Campbell. Why haven’t you run for your life? Why haven’t you ended it?’

Campbell stares at him, eyes wide and burning with ferocious intensity.

‘Why have you come? What is this then, your big moment? Confront your nemesis? I thought more of you.’

‘The window.’

‘What?’

‘The window,’ Campbell says again. ‘Look out of it.’

Horner frowns, confused and irritated at the deflection. He holds eye contact for a few more seconds, as if to say he’ll look when he chooses to, not when he is bid.

Campbell breaks first and looks past Horner to the window that overlooks the street. Eventually Horner does so too.

As they look, a car sweeps up fast and stops sharp. The doors pop open and three men step out, all heavy-set and thick shouldered, all ominous-looking.

‘What is this?’ snaps Horner, the tiniest edge to his voice.

’You know that I’m not the only one after you Michael. You know how much effort Hari put in stalking you. Hari is short for Harimau, did you know that? It’s Malaysian for Tiger.’

Horner tries to muster a look of contempt but Campbell cuts him off.

‘Some hunter, no? These are Hari’s men,’ he says as he sees Gresham and his men swagger up the path to the front door. He sees Warren and Slater, Gresham’s right hand man and enforcer. They look little changed from when he last saw them all, and no less menacing.

‘Nonsense. You want me to believe you’re working with him? He’ll flay your flesh from your bones without a thought.’

Campbell was shaking his head. ‘No Michael, I’m not with him, I am merely here a step ahead.’ There is a shout and the harsh ring of a buzzer.

‘And why is that?’

‘To offer you a choice. You take your chances with Hari, or you take your chances with me.’

There is a pounding on the door downstairs and another shout.

Horner looks at him, then at his own door hanging open, the frame splintered. It will not even close again, let alone keep those men out.

‘With you?’

‘Quickly now. Me or them?’ Campbell cocks his head backwards at the clamouring sound of the men at the front door, then points at the window again. ‘You could of course take the quick way, end it fast.’

Horner’s eyes are flickering around, frantic with the decision he has to make, desperate to find a way out.

‘Fine. I’m not waiting for them,’ says Campbell and turns for the door. He climbs the stairs up a flight and hits the landing before he hears the sound of Horner following fast, his footsteps almost drowned by the sound of the front door opening and a bellowed shout bouncing off the walls of the stairwell.

Campbell doesn’t look back. He makes for the roof access door and pushes out into daylight.

Jogging across the roof he heads for the iron railings of the fire escape ladder and slows his pace a little as he hears Horner giving chase.

‘Come on,’ he says and descends the ladder to a roof lower down. He crosses that and moves to the edge to peer over. He can see the car with its open doors but there is no sign of Gresham or his men. Horner pulls level and sees it too.

‘Shit. Come on then, where now?’ says Horner.

Campbell leads him down another ladder and into a walled alleyway. From there they scale a wall and drop into an enclosed courtyard and Campbell, like he’s reading from a detailed map committed to memory, spots a manhole cover.

‘Down,’ he says as he grabs pole from a rusting pile of detritus and wrenches it up. Horner takes the edge and helps lift.

‘You first,’ he sneers, like he’s not going to simply jump down a hole and let Campbell drop the lid on him.

Campbell shrugs and begins descending the recessed steps in the narrow hole.

He splashes through the low space of the storm drain without waiting. He hits the corner and rounds the bend and he hears Horner drop down behind him into the shallow water.

It is much darker here and he presses himself into the curve of the wall and waits. Horner looms into view, a silhouette in the gloom. Campbell sees Horner’s hand out in front of him, feeling his way blind in the darkness. He sees the gun in the other hand and lets Horner pass him.

Two more steps, three. ‘Campbell! Where did you go?’

Campbell answers by pressing the cold barrel of the gun Gresham gave him into the nape of Horner’s neck. He reaches down and relieves Horner of his own weapon and tosses it behind him into the wet muck on the floor where it splashes and skitters uselessly into darkness.

‘I see,’ he says. ‘And is this it? Do you finally have the balls for it Daniel, to do something decisive? Here, cowering underground, luring a man into a trap like a coward.’

Campbell gave a snort of contempt. ‘Talking of traps and cowardice without a hint of irony.’

‘Enjoy your moment, before the Tiger comes for you and you have to start running again. Go scampering across more rooftops and hiding in sewers when they catch up with you.’

‘Those weren’t Hari’s men. They were with me Michael. I just invited them along for a little drama. They’ll be on their way home by now. It’s just us.’

‘Here in the damp stinking dark. Some victory.’

‘Here in the dark Michael, where you will die in solitude and anonymity. There will be no infamy or notoriety for you in death, no blaze of glory. You will not be remembered. If they ever find you it will be whatever the rats don’t want.’

Even in the dark he could see the furious indignation twisting Horner’s face.

‘You aren’t going to do it. You aren’t going to do a thing. I’ve devoured bigger men than you, I’ve devoured them whole and spewed them back out again-‘

He’d known that in such a confined space it would be loud but all the same the sound of the shot took Campbell by surprise. He was surprised to that he’d even pulled the trigger.

It took Horner in the gut and he dropped to his knees, the wind punched out of him and the sound of ragged breath through the exit wound.

‘Beg now Michael,’ Campbell said through ringing ears. He chewed back the grief and desolation as it clawed its way to the surface. ‘Beg!’

Campbell thrust the gun forward against Horner’s forehead and shouted again.

‘Beg her for forgiveness, with your last breath. Tell her you’re sorry!’ Campbell roared, his voice bouncing of the brick walls, echoing through his deafness. ‘Plead with her Michael, on your fucking knees!’

‘Oh God,’ whimpered Horner as he clawed at the wound in his stomach, the reality finally striking home. ‘Oh God, please.’

‘Beg.’

‘Please. Please.’

‘No,’ said Campbell and he fired again as his tears were lost in the blackness.

[]EPILOGUE

 

There was no more time to waste on giving chase once the pyramid collapsed. Hari had things to attend to in his own back yard and once Horner had followed Hogg and Campbell in disappearing, it would have been an emotional decision to give pursuit, not a rational one.

Better to get back to the more pressing business that had been neglected these past days in the Caribbean. Hari had lost nothing financially, had risked nothing of his own wealth on Horner’s plot and in the cold light of day, knew he was no worse off than anyone else that the Englishman had sucked into his elaborate plan.

Fleeing the scene was the act of a guilty man nonetheless, and Horner had taken flight from the consequences rather than face them with some scrap of dignity.

In truth, Hari was never going to let him live even if the whole affair had run smoothly and to a successful conclusion. He was dead the moment that Dusan had picked up his trail and found his hiding place. After that it was a matter of time.

In that respect nought had changed. Horner would go to ground again, hide again. Once more he would be found, one way or another. Maybe someone would beat Hari to it this time, perhaps they would deny him the satisfaction of doing it himself. That was of no consequence ultimately. The fact was unalterable.

Of greater interest was the younger man. Once Horner had brought him into the mix everything had changed. His tenacity and spirit had impressed Hari greatly, though he was as much to blame as Horner for the failure of the scam.

He too would be found and soon. He lacked the resources and the experience of Horner and would surely not stay hidden for long. They had ignored it when he’d popped up booked onto four separate flights on the same day. Hari had taken it as a diversionary measure; he might be on one of those flights or none at all, but the mere fact he’d done it meant he knew he would be watched.

Hari hadn’t made up his mind yet on his next move. He hadn’t decided if he wanted to punish Campbell for his part in the failed fraud and the money Hari had missed out on, or whether it might be better to make use of such a man and his considerable skills.

But a decision would be reached in due course, and before that awaited the thrill of the hunt.

 

 

 

The End

 

 

 

Daniel Campbell will return in Troubleshooter.

 

 

 

 

354


Headhunter

Having found himself caught up in a complex and deadly web and barely escaped alive, Daniel Campbell has been finding that normal life is missing something, and he craves a little more excitement, a new challenge. Meanwhile, someone, somewhere remembers what Campbell did to him and can still feel the sting of it as he struggles with the consequences. He's got revenge in mind, and a comeback plan that will dig him out of the hole Campbell left him in. As the net draws closed around him Campbell feels the familiar stir of fear and paranoia and starts to question everything and everyone. But has he left it too late to start asking questions? Is there time enough left to save himself?

  • Author: Robert Young
  • Published: 2016-10-16 22:05:31
  • Words: 100350
Headhunter Headhunter