My dear devoted friends. As you know, I am merely hours away from making BLOOD IS HEAVIER available in ebook format. I’ve been working hard and I want to make it up to you for keeping away for so long. So here’s a sample of the action. Tell me what you think.
13. DAGGER, KIDNAP, MANOEUVRE
“What the…?” JB’s voice was scared.
“It came from the car park,” Nick pointed out unnecessarily.
“If you did anything funny…”
“How could I, you dipstick? I was right in front of you, wasn’t I?”
They were running back down the path. To the left, the silver BMW was a smouldering pyre, the flames working their way slowly out from the inside, licking at the doors and slithering out through the smashed windows.
Nick hurried to it, Jesse one step behind. JB tried to open the driver’s door, but he pulled his hand back with a yelp when the hot metal handle burned him.
They could see Nathan’s body, ramrod straight in his seat, as if he was still concentrating on the road ahead. But there was no movement, not even the slightest twitch when the orange tongues of flame licked at his face.
Through the gaping hole that had been the window, even with all the billowing smoke and flickering flames, the glass green and gold hilt of a knife could easily be seen protruding out of Nathan’s chest. It had been slammed into his body so hard, it had pinned him to the back of his seat like a moth on a school project board. Only he didn’t make as good a picture.
But that was not why Nick was standing stock still, immune to the rustle of the fire and the creaking of the scorched car, not hearing what JB was shouting at him over all the noise.
Seeing the body did not faze him – he’d seen worse sights before.
Even the excellent skill with which the strike had been applied – perfect aim, straight between two ribs and through the heart, then twist – was not uncommon among his kind.
Nick was staring at the knife.
Because he knew that knife.
He’d seen that hilt in someone else’s hand before. That knife was Tequila’s. She had acquired a dagger just like that in Jeddah, once upon a very distant past, a dagger with a very long double-edged thin blade, certainly long enough to pierce through a man’s chest and come out the other side. She had traded for it a small barrel of arrack and a promise to forget she had ever met its previous owner.
Slowly, like in a trance, Nick reached over through the smashed window and pulled the dagger out, his mind in turmoil.
Tequila had been here? She’d killed this guy? But why? What did she know about all this?
Was she here to help? How did she even know about Nick’s predicament? What exactly did she know? Since when? And why didn’t she get in touch with him? Did she have something to hide?
Shreds of old doubts and unsolved enigmas swirled indistinctly through Nick’s head, mingling with this new discovery. Could Tequila have been the weak link right from the start? She was always so close to him. She knew his whereabouts, she knew him much too well. She’d known where he was going to buy his bike from and when, for example. It had been her job to make sure there would be no intruders at Panchito’s party. She’d had proof that Marty’s death was no accident and yet she insisted it would be too risky to share it with the police. She had been on the beach right before King’s men had stormed it and took off at just the right time. She was nowhere to be found afterwards, when he wanted to invite her to the wedding. Why? Were all these coincidences? Maxi had picked up on it right away. He didn’t believe her at the time, but could Maxi have been right all along?
From the deep recesses of his mind, the image of a leather-clad rider on a black GS bike slowly floated up to the forefront. Nick had thought at the time that the bike looked familiar. Now, he was certain that it was his bike.
Didn’t Jesse say just a minute ago that he’d been tailed? That he would constantly be in their sights? Nick had assumed that Jesse was talking about the silver Gran Turismo. But what if Tequila was his tail? She rode past him just outside South Mimms. And she was at the London Gateway Services, too.
Now she’d obviously been here. But if she wanted to keep her presence a secret, why didn’t she take her knife back? Did she forget that Nick had seen it before? Did she think he wouldn’t remember it?
His blood ran cold. She was on their side and she knew too much. He hated himself for allowing that thought into his mind. Tequila was a trusted comrade. She’d known him for so long… She’d fought by his side, she’d driven him to the doctors, she’d given him support when his burden was too much to bear. He didn’t want to believe that she could have crossed the line. But what was he supposed to believe?
Could there be another explanation? Did she leave the dagger behind with a purpose? A sign for him? Had she infiltrated their ring in order to gain inside information? If that was the case, wouldn’t it make more sense for her to wait for him? Maybe she was still waiting, hidden in the darkness. He would have to get rid of Jesse and then sweep the woods. Fast. Harrock’s Wood was not the back of beyond, someone was bound to notice the fire and then the place would be swarming within minutes…
A small voice at the back of Nick’s mind wondered if he should he be taking risks when he should be concentrating on looking after his son. If Tequila was now one of his enemies, meeting her face to face would represent a risk.
JB’s hand closed on his arm, and he reluctantly turned to hurry away from the inferno – the flames were gathering pace; soon they were going to reach the fuel tank and then…
“Come on.” JB tugged again.
Nick retreated a few steps, but then he had a thought. He dug his heels in the mud and pulled his arm back which stopped Jesse, too.
“What?” Jesse’s voice was annoyed.
“Give me your torch.”
JB stared back at him, an ‘are you completely mental?’ look in his eyes. Nick could see the reflection of orange flames flickering in Jesse’s blue irises.
“Just for a minute,” Nick insisted. “I’ll be right back.”
“That thing’s gonna blow any second now,” Jesse argued.
“Then get out of here. I do remember – I won’t be out of your sights for more than ten minutes. I’ll be outside the Chandler’s Cross Café in five. And… here,” Nick offered him the bloodied knife.
“What do you want me to do with that?”
“It’s the murder weapon. When the police come flying down – and they will, soon – they are going to try to trace its owner. If it’s one of you lot…”
“Throw it back in the fire,” Jesse commanded, turning towards his car.
“You’ve forgotten something.”
Nick reached out and snatched the torch out of Jesse’s hand. He turned his back on Jesse and dashed back towards the fire.
“Don’t you dare get killed for some stupid idea, Hunter,” JB hollered at Nick’s retreating back.
Nick smiled. Typical Jesse Bent reaction; he wasn’t worried about Nick’s safety, but his own skin. What would Dollar say if Jesse ‘lost’ Nick?
It was tempting to do a disappearing act right now, Nick mused. After all, how often would one get such conveniently placed, perfect conditions such as these?
But there was no way that he would risk Cameron’s safety. He would play straight for the time being, get closer to Cam, and then make his move. The closer he was to his son, the easier it would be to quantify the hazards to which he was exposed.
The Touareg revved loudly behind Nick, almost loud enough to cover up the noise of the fire, and from the corner of his eye he caught sight of its headlights sweeping the deserted car park.
Nick shone the torch light into the trees but there were only shadows, black and dark green, chasing each other from tree to tree, as if trying to escape his scrutiny.
If he knew Tequila well, she would have hidden the bike out of sight, so maybe following the tracks would lead him to her, if she was still here. He found them soon enough, two wide tracks with the tell-tale signs of the off road tyres he knew so well, turning into the trees. One of the mud casts had even preserved the small triangular nick he’d carved with his own hand, just left of the centre line.
Wondering idly why Tequila never changed the tyres in the five years she’d had access to his bike, Nick followed the tracks into the trees.
Soon enough, he came to a pile of freshly-cut branches that had obviously been layered over something. They’d been shoved roughly aside as the rider made her hasty exit.
She hadn’t waited for him. Therefore, she must not want to meet him.
And the only reason for that, as far as Nick could work out, was that she wasn’t there for him. There was no other option – he didn’t like it at all, but he would be a fool not to consider the fact that Tequila was now one of them. She was not here to help him. She was fighting against him. They had roped her in and she’d just taken one of them out for the sake of settling an argument or a better share of the profits, or any one of a million other reasons. And if she worked for them, that would explain why she wanted to keep her distance. That would explain why she left her knife behind. She probably ran out of time, when Nick and Jesse rushed back from the woods.
The knowledge that Tequila was now his enemy pierced Nick through with a pain so sharp and real, it was as if she’d stabbed him with the dagger still hanging loosely from his fingers.