Authors: E.V. Seymour
Who the hell was calling at this time?
He dashed back to the sitting room to where his cell phone was vibrating on the coffee table. “Max?” Tallis said, bewildered.
“Sorry to disturb you.”
“It’s all right,” he said, dizzy with relief. “I wasn’t in bed.” He should have been, he thought, checking his watch. It was three-thirty in the morning.
“Something wrong?” Tallis said.
Course it blood was
There was an uneasy silence as though Max hadn’t quite rehearsed what he was going to say. “Just had the police on the phone.” His voice was grave. “They got my name from Felka’s belongings.”
“Something happened to her?” Of course it had. He knew only too well how people dished up bad news.
It started in increments.
“She’s dead,” Max blurted out. “Murdered.”
E. V. SEYMOUR
lives in a small village in Worcestershire. Before turning to writing, E.V. worked in PR in London and Birmingham, then moved to Devon where, five children later, she began writing.
E.V. has bent the ears of numerous police officers in Devon, West Mercia and the West Midlands—including scenes-of-crime and firearms officers—in a ruthless bid to make her writing as authentic as possible.
The Last Exile
With a song in my heart…
This book would not have come into being had it not been for a small number of serving firearms officers. Because of reasons of security and protocol, I am neither allowed to mention them by name nor state the place where we met. They know who they are, however, and I thank them for their time, generosity and good humor. I should also add that my take on a firearms officer’s job is just that, with dramaticlicence. Moreover, the views expressed in the book are not those necessarily shared by those I talked to.
Major thanks go to my agent, Broo Doherty, for having the perspicacity to encourage me to write something completely different and, most important, giving me the confidence to do it. Thanks also to Catherine Burke, my editor at MIRA Books, for spotting the book’s potential and putting it through its paces, and indeed the whole of the MIRA team for their warmth and infectious enthusiasm. Most notably Guy Hallowes, Sarah, Oliver on the marketing side, and lan on sales—not the lan to whom the book is dedicated; we got on well but not that well! Those I’ve failed to mention in person, apologies! Thanks, too, to Jana Holden for turning my schoolgirl Croatian into colloquial Croatian, and for sharing a little of her family history with me.
Lastly, thanks to an unlikely individual, to Tim, the inspiration for Jimmy. But that’s not an excuse for further turning up the volume!
woman was running. Running for her life. Small and sinewy, she moved at speed, twisting like a desperate vixen. But there was no escape. Not for anyone. She knew it. Tallis knew it. From the instant he and Stu barrelled through the automatic doors, he understood how it was going down, how it was going to be. All of them were ensnared in a dance of death.
Tallis didn’t register the glossy-looking, brightly lit stores, or the homely sweet aroma drifting from a biscuit stand nearby. He failed to admire the display of brand new Minis parked at the mall’s entrance. He didn’t detect Paul Young crooning hoarsely through the centre’s speakers. Sound, taste, smell, touch all disappeared. His focus was on the woman. Only the woman. The woman with the rucksack on her back.
Fuck, she was going down the escalator the wrong way. Tallis sharply elbowed a middle-aged man aside, and leapt on, feet skimming the moving parts, shoppers cursing his jostling form. Stu, close behind, snarled an order to get out of the frigging way. An acne-faced youth spat at them then, seeing the guns, recoiled and cowered, his bottle gone. Men with weapons in full tactical firearms kit represented the visible arm of the law. Guys in plain-clothes, whatever their rank and standing, were scary, unknown quantities.
Women and children started to scream. Tallis, fearing it would force the woman to detonate her lethal load, bounded clear of the moving staircase, feet landing square, the fleeing figure still ahead, ducking and weaving. For the second time, Tallis shouted a warning. Again he used her native tongue, yet there was no break in step, no change in pace, no backward glance. Relentless, Tallis thought, but not nearly as relentless as me. Whatever the cost. Whatever the personal sacrifice.
People were fleeing now. Those who’d ordered morning lattes were dropping them where they stood, the contents spooling over a floor the colour of rancid butter. Boisterous school-kids already bored by the prospect of long summer holidays dived for cover. A security man too old and fat for the job looked clueless then slack-jawed then barked a
What the hell?
into a mobile phone.
Area should be cleared by now, Tallis chafed as a woman pushing a baby buggy almost cannoned into him. What the fuck was going on? Where was back-up? Two foreign-looking men selling cosmetics from a stand extolling the virtues of Dead Sea salt turned and gazed, the laconic expression in their eyes suggesting that they’d seen it all before.
Tallis’s earpiece crackled. A designated senior officer had already confirmed the identity of the target, an Algerian woman with links to the recent failed bombing in Birmingham. Now he was upping the game, issuing instructions to prepare to eliminate the threat—code for execute or shoot to kill. Tallis tightened his grip on the Glock but judged the scene too chaotic and unstable to take aim and fire should the final code word be given. Public safety, threats of criminal proceedings, phrases that tripped off the tongue in the aftermath but made no sense in the context buzzed round his brain like a swarm of demented hornets. Strained faces were everywhere, there seemed more shoppers than ever. And that was dangerous.
Tallis was subliminally aware of Stu drawing abreast of him, feet pounding the floor. They were gaining now but another escalator loomed ahead, ascending. Glancing up, Tallis saw two colleagues openly brandishing weapons, sealing off the exit. The woman’s head lifted minutely in mid-pace. She saw it, too. Tallis caught his breath. His gut tourniqueted. This was when she’d do it. This was when she’d blow them all to kingdom come. He raised his weapon but a group of gormless-looking lads oblivious to the action wandered across his line of vision. Stu let out a yell, making them scatter.
Tallis picked up the pursuit again, speeding around a corner flanked with banks and building societies, the financial heart of the mall. The woman was only metres ahead, losing pace, through stitch or fear, the fight abruptly abandoning her.
Nothing left to lose
, Tallis thought, raising his weapon a second time, imagining the blinding flash, broken bodies, twisted wreckage, crippled lives. This time he took aim, homing in for a head shot. “I can take the shot,” he radioed back to Control.
“Take it,” was the response.
Then something happened, something more terrible than he could imagine. In that heart-charged split second, she turned, small hands spread in a defensive gesture. Young, her dark face was arresting rather than beautiful. She had a wide, noble brow and brown eyes wet with tears and terror. Not that it mattered, Tallis thought coldly. An order was an order. Question the method, the timing, but never the command. Even so, Tallis experienced an ugly sensation, felt something he wasn’t paid to feel. His earpiece crackled. Maybe they were going to be asked to stand down, he thought wildly hopeful. It crackled some more: the gold commander was giving the code word authorising the use of lethal force.
Before Tallis could act, two shots rang out from Stu’s Glock, one winging wide, missing by inches a startled bank clerk taking a break, and ricocheting harmlessly off a pillar. The other felled the target. Tallis ran forward, saw the stain from a wound in the young woman’s shoulder spread and dye her T-shirt a darker hue. In shock, she made no sound. Just fluttered a hand towards her body, a movement that, whatever instinct was stirring inside him, was to cost her her life. With the colour still draining from her skin, Tallis emptied five bullets into her head and neck, witnessing her final second of life, hearing her last breath, watching as her life-blood flowed freely on the floor.
An eerie stillness descended. People stood silent, in dread and awe and shame, all of them witnesses to something they neither understood nor desired. One woman was weeping. The bank clerk, white with horror, eyes drilling into Tallis, murmured, ‘Murderer.’
“Job done,” Stu said, the relief in his voice drowned out by the gathering clamour of local police and forensics in full cry.
Tallis nodded, feeling hollow.
One year later
silk tie or navy? Paul Tallis held both of them against the white shirt and dark blue jacket hanging from the top of the doorframe. Maybe red would come across as a bit aggressive, a bit over the top. Then again, he wanted to look as if he knew how to do the business. But he was supposed to be protecting a school-kid, not some foreign head of state, he reminded himself. Navy, then. Gave the impression of responsibility, reliability, confidence. Yeah, navy was definitely a safer bet.
He turned away, satisfied with his choice though not quite so thrilled with the out-of-shape figure reflected back from the long mirror propped against the wall. At six feet two inches, he was able to carry several extra pounds and get away with it, but lately his trousers had started to feel a little tight around the waistband. Sure, he knew that to the untrained eye he still cut it. It was more a case of not being as super-fit as he used to be. Always happened when you reined back on a fairly demanding exercise regime. Fact was, in twelve months he hadn’t run much, been to the gym or cycled. Hadn’t seen the point.
The best he could muster was a quick thrash up and down Max’s swimming pool and that was only because he wanted to impress the au pair. Pathetic, he knew. Felka was considerably younger than himself, bright and fresh-faced, and with an innate sweetness and innocence that he had no intention of despoiling in spite of the fact that, on a number of occasions, she’d made it quite plain that she wouldn’t have minded.
He let out a sigh, smoothing his not-so-taut six-pack. No matter, he thought. His future employers weren’t going to interview him in the buff, and with his clothes on he still presented a commanding figure. He clowned a face in the mirror, thrust his chin out, the way he did when he shaved. Still had all his own hair and teeth, which at thirty-three he bloody well ought to have. The faint scar across his forehead made him look interesting rather than dangerous, he thought, and he still had the
look in his eyes. He grinned and winked. Once he got the job, could see a way forward again, he’d get back to his old exercise routine, get back to his old self. He’d done it before after he’d spent a stint undercover early on in his police career—nothing more guaranteed to screw up your brain and pile on the pounds than hanging out with people whose lives revolved around pubs, clubs and fast food. He’d had to drink so much alcohol to fit in that his weight had ballooned to Sumo proportions.
Not like Stu, Tallis thought grimly. The more the guy drank, the thinner he seemed to get. Last time they met he’d been wasted before Tallis had sunk his first pint. Tallis had ended up piling him into his car, a shit-heap in Stu’s opinion, and taking him back home or
—the more drunk, the stronger Stu’s Glaswegian accent. Stu’s
had turned out to be a room in a house full of deadbeats. Oh, how the mighty had fallen. Yet Tallis recognised that he, too, was one of them. It still astonished him how quickly one’s fortunes could change. In one single minute he’d ripped up the ground from beneath his feet. One false decision and the world, as he’d once known it, had changed for ever. To say he regretted the shooting didn’t even come close. An innocent woman had died, for Chrissakes, but there were other regrets: the collapse of the team and loss of personal identity.
It took him twenty minutes to shower, shave and clean his teeth, five minutes to dress and splash on the last dregs of aftershave. He’d shined his shoes the night before. Half an hour to kill, he thought, glancing at his watch, flicking on the radio. “The men were arrested in South London last night. The raid followed a long period of surveillance by police and MI5. It’s thought…” Tallis switched off and picked up the TV guide, idly flicking through the pages. He usually worked in the evening so TV was a bit of a luxury. Maybe he’d take in one of those home make-over shows, he thought, closest you could get to property porn. Might give him some ideas about how to transform his less than glorious surroundings. He suddenly became acutely aware of the horrible floral design of the wallpaper, the decrepit-looking gas fire in the tiled fireplace, the campaign table which was really a fold-down from Ikea and for which he’d paid six quid, the smell of old lady and lavender. In the thirty years his grandmother had lived there, she hadn’t changed a thing.
The phone rang. Tallis eyed it warily. After the shooting, and in spite of strict orders not to talk, his phone had never stopped. Since his fall from grace, it had never rung at all. He’d become a social and professional pariah: no status, no self-esteem. Someone once said that you
could judge a man’s standing in the world by the number of calls he received. Applying that criterion, his was on the same level as an amoeba’s.
“Paul, it’s Max. You OK?”
Tallis smiled in relief. “Bit nervous.”
“Yes, well… erm, there’s been a change of plan.”
“Yeah? No problem,” Tallis said cheerfully. Flexible was his middle name, especially if it meant the prospect of landing a decent job that paid well. Since his decision to leave the force, finding work had proved a soul-destroying task. There weren’t too many orthodox lines of business for an out-of-work killer, as he’d been famously dubbed. To keep body and soul together, he’d taken a rubbish job as a security man at a warehouse. The work was tedious in the extreme, the pay lousy, with the result that he was seriously into his overdraft. That his grandmother had left him her crumbling wreck of a bungalow should have saved him from penury, but he’d spent so much time and money attempting to sort out the faulty plumbing and dodgy wiring, it was haemorrhaging his already limited resources.
“Thing is,” Max said, strain in his voice, “they’ve changed their minds, Paul.”
“Changed their minds about having a bodyguard or changed their minds about me?”
Sweaty silence. Tallis imagined Max rubbing his face with a paw of a hand. In looks, they were quite similar—tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed, ‘fucking good-looking’ according to Max in one of his more expansive moments. “It’s all my fault,” Max said. “I should have come clean, told them the truth from the start.”
Tallis almost laughed. The truth that we were given duff intelligence, he asked himself, or the truth that we
were obeying orders? “Don’t worry, mate. Notoriety does strange things to people. To be honest, I’m not sure babysitting an over-pampered public schoolboy is really my thing anyway.” Tallis felt his neck flush. Pride was a terrible thing. Another month playing security guards and he’d go mental and be no good to anyone.
“I feel really bad about this,” Max said, deeply apologetic. “It was me who put you up to it, for Christ’s sake. Look, if there’s anything I can do…”
“You can. Have a nice holiday.” Tallis loosened the tie from his collar. “When do you fly?”
“Leave Heathrow tonight. Kids are so excited they’re already driving Penny nuts. Think she’s beginning to regret not taking Felka with us.” Paul smiled. He liked Penny enormously but she didn’t strike him as a natural at motherhood. How would she cope for six whole weeks without her au pair?
Max was talking again, hell-bent on trying to make amends. “Why not take a trip out to the sticks, check on the house, give it a once-over?”
“Doesn’t need a once-over. It was me who advised you on security, remember?”
“Well, go and see if Felka’s all right. She doesn’t leave until tomorrow. You could have a swim, make sure she’s not throwing a party or entertaining unsuitable young men.”
“You asking me?” Paul laughed.
“Keep an eye on her, I said, not get your leg over.”
“The thought had never crossed my mind.” It had, and often, but he wasn’t going to admit that to Max. For reasons that baffled him, he’d acquired an unfair reputation for being a womaniser. In his book, there was a huge difference between having erotic thoughts about a woman
and having base designs on one. It was all right to look and admire, but not to act on every instinct, which was why he was careful to keep his thoughts and emotions about the female of the species to himself. Somewhere lurking at the back of his mind, he suspected his brother had started the rumour. From the time they had been in their teens, Dan had always been jealous of the fact that women were more attracted to his younger brother than to him. So much easier for Dan to accuse him of being a letch rather than recognising the simple, uncomplicated truth that women preferred men who were nice to them.
“And if you need a decent set of wheels …”
“What’s wrong with my car?”
“Where to start?” This time Max laughed.
Tallis had to admit that his car was neither cool nor sexy. It wasn’t even very practical. Price alone had guided his decision to buy a Rover. After the demise of Longbridge, they had been practically giving them away.
“I’d look on it as a personal favour if you took the BMW out for a good run,” Max said persuasively. “No point the lovely beast sitting in the garage for all that time.”
Tallis almost punched the air. Things were looking up. This wasn’t just any BMW. This was a Z8, the dog’s bollocks. “Deal.”
“Good man,” Max said, voice warm with absolution as he cut the call.
It was too early for a beer but Tallis decided to have one anyway. Screw the fitness and weight-loss regime.