Table of Contents
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Epub ISBN: 9781407051451
A DOUBLEDAY BOOK
Hardback: 978 0 385 61710 9
Trade paperback: 978 0 385 61697 3
Published in Great Britain by Doubleday,
an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
A Random House Group Company
This edition published 2010
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Copyright © Andy McNab, 2010
With thanks to David Gatward
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Also by Andy McNab:
BOY SOLDIER (with Robert Rigby)
Bravo Two Zero
Spoken from the Front
Driven by a fierce determination to make something of his life, Ethan will push himself to the limit, face his fears head on and stand by his friends no matter what. Skydiving is just the opportunity he’s been looking for, and he doesn’t want to be simply good, he’s out to be the best. Period.
Quick with the witty comments and fast in the air, he’s a living, breathing definition of ‘adrenaline junkie’. But beneath the smartarse persona lies a seriously capable operator who doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. His only problem is that he likes to go it alone, and that doesn’t always work well with a team.
The one the rest of the team depend on to make sure everything is safe and sorted. He’s quiet, methodical, and all about the detail. When it comes to skydiving, if Luke doesn’t know it, it’s not worth knowing.
Pretty, athletic and impulsive, she loves being that rare thing among her peers – a girl who skydives. She does it because she knows she’s good at it and because it makes her sexy as hell.
A serious girl with a mysterious past buried deep somewhere in eastern Europe. No one quite knows where she came from or how she ended up skydiving in the UK.
A world-class skydiver, skilled undercover operator and exceptional soldier, Sam is tough, serious and a natural leader. He has a long history with the SAS – having led operations across the globe – and he hasn’t exactly retired. He’s responsible for bringing the team together in the first place. His word is law. And he’s someone you really don’t want to cross.
You jump from a plane at 12,000 feet, reach speeds of over 120 mph, then glide in under your canopy, gazing at the most amazing view of the earth you’ll ever see. Adrenaline never tasted this good.
: dangerously addictive.
You don’t jump from a plane, but from a fixed object closer to the ground. BASE stands for Building, Antenna, Span (bridge or arch), Earth. Unlike skydiving, a BASE jumper rarely reaches terminal velocity (120 mph).
: this is the closest you can get to falling to your death without dying.
SAS covert ops commander
‘What do you mean Ryan’s gone? Explain.’
Gabe’s voice was hard and businesslike, but then when was he anything else? On the other end of the line, phone against his ear, Sam leaned back in his chair. Outside his window the moon stared back like a bullet hole in a bed sheet.
‘He’s not been seen at FreeFall for two weeks,’ he said. ‘He’s missed God knows how many jumps. It’s not like him at all and that’s what worries me. Even if he does come back . . .’ Sam let his voice trail off in frustration. He’d invested so much time and effort in the whole project and Ryan’s unexplained disappearance had brought it to a dead stop.
‘And you’ve no idea where he is, where he’s gone?’
‘No,’ said Sam, shaking his head, despite being alone in his office. ‘The kid’s a ghost. That’s why we picked him, remember?’
Gabe fell silent.
Sam waited patiently.
Then came the reply. ‘Find a replacement.’
Sam laughed, couldn’t help it. ‘You really think it’s that simple?’
‘No,’ said Gabe. ‘I don’t.’
And Sam believed him.
‘Look,’ said Gabe, his voice almost losing its edge, ‘I know you can’t just walk down a high street and pick someone out of a crowd, but we need five in this team for the whole thing to work, not four.’
‘I know,’ said Sam.
Ryan had been the last; he’d have brought the team to the magic five they were looking for. If he’d made the grade with his skydiving then he’d have been told the truth about the team – and invited to join. Sam was sure Ryan would’ve jumped at the chance. He’d seemed perfect: independent, bright, driven, a natural skydiver, and with no family ties to speak of. So why the hell had he just vanished?
Sam was pissed off. Ryan’s disappearance meant he’d got it wrong. And Sam never got things wrong.
‘Did I say something funny?’
‘I doubt it,’ said Sam. Gabe had lots of qualities, he thought, but a sense of humour wasn’t one of them.
‘Then do it,’ Gabe continued. ‘Anyway, we had our eyes on two possibles originally. What about the other?’
‘I never had my eyes on two,’ said Sam. ‘You did. I found Ryan. You found Jake.’
‘So focus on Jake,’ said Gabe, like he wasn’t expecting an argument.
‘You’ve read my report?’
‘Of course I’ve read it,’ replied Gabe, sounding more than a little irritated. ‘And he’s ticking the boxes.’
‘But not necessarily the right ones,’ Sam cut back. ‘Jake’s too interested in himself. There’s no way I’m bringing him onto the team until I’m absolutely sure. You know that. And it’s my word on this – that’s the agreement.’
‘You saying I’m a bad judge of character?’
‘You picked me,’ said Sam, and the smile that flickered across his face was anything but warm.
For a moment, neither man spoke.
Sam broke the silence. ‘So what about Ryan?’
‘If he’s gone, he’s gone,’ came the reply. ‘Unsuitable. We’re better off knowing now than halfway through an operation. I’ll try and trace him, find out what happened. But he’s no longer your concern. Anything else?’
Sam knew the conversation was over. ‘No,’ he said.
‘Good,’ said the voice. ‘Keep me posted on the team – and on Jake.’
The phone went dead. No goodbyes, no farewells, just silence.
Sam replaced the receiver and leaned forwards, resting his arms on his desk. In the gloom of his office, lit as it was by only a simple desk lamp, Sam stood up and walked over to a filing cabinet. The thing looked tired and beaten, like it had been dropped just a few too many times off the back of a truck. He slid open the second drawer, pulled out a thick folder and flicked through it.
From the pages of the files inside, the photographs of four faces stared out: two male, two female. Of the males, one was serious, collected, had eyes that looked like they could spot a flea on a rat’s arse at a couple of miles. The other had a wildness about him, like he was ready to jump out of the photo, steal your girlfriend and ride off into the sunset. The girls were just as different. One had haunted eyes in a pale face that showed nothing but determination. The other looked like she wanted to take on the world in a bar fight, and come out not just the winner but with her makeup intact and not a hair out of place.
Sam picked up another two files. Jake and the missing Ryan stared up at him. But it wasn’t Ryan’s disappearance that bothered Sam; it was what he’d do if Jake didn’t make the grade. And, deep down, Sam had a hunch he wouldn’t. Not just because Jake’s attitude was all wrong, but because if a mission went tits up and the team were facing a total shit storm, Sam’s gut instinct told him that Jake would bottle it. He was prepared to give Jake the training, but if he didn’t shape up there was no way in hell Sam was going to put the team at risk.
After a few moments, Sam replaced the files in the cabinet and walked to his office door. Reaching out, he flicked the room to darkness, then slipped away into the night. But one thought haunted him: when Jake screwed up, just how the hell was he going to find anyone else?
The yell from above shattered the night like a brick through a window.
Ethan jarred to a halt, earphones halfway to his head. He’d been out for another late-night walk to clear his mind. It hadn’t worked.
Looking up, he saw someone falling from the roof of the block of flats he called home; a silhouette racing towards him, getting bigger, closer, on target for a direct hit he knew would kill him.
His breath caught in his throat.
His voice didn’t.
‘Shit . . .’
Keeping his eyes pinned on the figure, Ethan quickly pulled himself out of its way, turning back up the street to a vandalized bus shelter that was tagged to hell.
Suddenly another sound filled the darkness, like bed sheets flapping in the wind, followed by a whoop and a shout of ‘Yeah – nailed it!’ and the silhouette exploded in the sky, expanding from a black smudge to a black oblong. Its descent slowed dramatically. It drifted away from Ethan, riding wind and moonlight.
Stunned and staring, he watched as the shape floated down just ahead of him, a human figure dangling underneath what he now guessed was a parachute. It landed gently, silently.