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Authors: Nick Hale

Close Range

BOOK: Close Range
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STRIKER

CLOSE
              
RANGE

            
NICK HALE

Copyright

EGMONT
we bring stories to life

Striker: Close Range
first published in Great Britain 2010
by Egmont UK Limited
239 Kensington High Street, London W8 6SA

Text copyright © Working Partners Ltd 2010

The moral rights of the author have been asserted

ISBN 978 1 4052 4964 5

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

www.egmont.co.uk

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available
from the British Library

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

First e-book edition December 2010

ISBN 978-1-7803-1007-7

Special thanks to Michael Ford
To James, for your creativity and enthusiasm

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

1

O
ne look at the guys waiting for them in passport control and Jake knew he and his dad were in for more trouble. The men blocking their way didn’t look like normal airport staff – they were too well dressed: the cut of their suits designer, not airport issue. And what was with the mirrored shades? Jake couldn’t see the guy’s eyes as he handed over his passport, but he could feel himself being inspected closely. Then his passport was taken away, a phone call made.

Jake looked over to where his dad was getting the same treatment. His dad shrugged, as if to say it was no big deal. Beside him was the air stewardess, Bernedetta, who had personally escorted them off the plane and fast-tracked them to here. Jake tried to shake off his nervousness around the beautiful Italian woman as memories of the flight on Igor Popov’s private jet came flooding back. The air stewardess on board had killed three people and nearly crashed their plane.

After five minutes, he and his dad were waved through, and Jake began to believe he might simply be paranoid. As they reached the stairs to the baggage reclaim area, Bernedetta wished them a pleasant stay in Milan. She handed Jake’s dad a small piece of paper, and said in a low voice, ‘Call me if you get bored.’

His dad smiled politely and pocketed the number. ‘Doesn’t hurt to keep the fans happy,’ he said to Jake as they headed into the baggage hall.

While they waited for their bags, Jake took out the Brotherhood Tournament brochure, the reason they were coming to Milan. Well, the
public
reason. Jake was in no doubt that his dad was here for entirely different purposes. His dad had been very clear, though. After they were both nearly killed in Russia, he wanted Jake as far from danger as possible.

The four-nation tournament had been set up to raise money for humanitarian causes in Africa. Jake’s dad had been called by the organisers to do English-language commentary on Sky for the games in which England appeared. The England vs Germany game was seen by many to be the showpiece. Following that would be England vs Spain. In the final match, at the end of the one-week event, England would take on the hosts, Italy.

And Jake would get to see it all – one of the best things
about having a dad who was not only a former footballer, but also a well-connected spy with the British government.

They wheeled their cases into Customs. Jake noticed his dad was limping again. The world thought the great Steve Bastin had a career-ending injury in Munich, 1988, which left him with a permanent limp. But that was all part of his MI6 cover. He must have been pretending so long it came as second nature. Jake found he was smiling. After sixteen years of secrecy, of only seeing his dad in the holidays from private school, he was finally getting to know the man who hobbled beside him. And more than that – for the first time, Steve Bastin was a father too.

The queue out through Customs was backed up as guards with German shepherds emptied out some guy’s case. He complained in a language Jake didn’t recognise, and the guard nodded to two of his colleagues, who stepped in at either side. The man tried to move away, but they grabbed him and forcibly led him off, the contents of his luggage still strewn across the table.

‘I wonder what that’s about,’ Jake said.

‘Security’s tight everywhere these days,’ his dad replied. ‘Just take it easy. We’ve got nothing to hide.’

You’ve got plenty to hide, thought Jake. Just not in your suitcase.

They walked through into Arrivals. A sea of faces greeted them: an elderly couple looking on expectantly; a woman and her toddler daughter waiting, probably, for a husband and father; several chauffeurs holding up boards with names – Ursillo, Ettiami, Lima.

‘Jake!’

And then a face he recognised. His mother. She was standing a row back from the front of the crowd, waving excitedly. Jake waved back. She crossed the rear of the crowd to where the arrivals spilled out on to the main concourse. Jake pushed his trolley along, then abandoned it as she threw her arms round him.

‘I’m so pleased to see you!’ she said, squeezing him tightly. ‘You’ve grown! Again!’

Jake wasn’t sure about that – they’d last seen each other in Paris three months ago. He did notice he was slightly taller than his mum, which hadn’t been the case before. Jake’s mother had been a model in the eighties and early nineties. He’d seen a few clippings of his mum and dad from the papers, but it wasn’t like now when players and their partners got followed around night and day by paparazzi.

But football and modelling had something in common: after thirty, you were thought of as ‘past it'. Luckily, both of Jake’s parents were good at adapting. Where his dad had
been welcomed into coaching and commentating roles, his mum had jumped to the other side of the camera lens to be a fashion photographer.

Jake broke away as his dad walked up behind them. His mum’s smile remained, but without the same spark.

‘Steve,’ she said.

‘Hayley,’ he said back. Jake thought his dad’s body language was a bit stiff as he gave her two pecks on the cheeks. She kissed the air either side of his face. They may as well have shared a limp handshake, for all the warmth there.

Jake never knew the real reason for their divorce, but he remembered the arguments clearly enough: sitting in his bedroom, listening to, but not really understanding, the raised voices downstairs. Having experienced firsthand his dad’s ability to lie, it must have contributed, he supposed.

‘Good flights?’ she asked. ‘How was Russia?’

Jake shared a look with his father. If only she knew.

‘Pretty tame,’ Jake said. Apart from the plane crash, the murders, the bomb, the fights, his dad getting shot …

‘Great,’ she said. ‘Good for you two to spend some time together.’

His dad shrugged. ‘He didn’t cramp my style
too
much.’

Jake raised his fists to send a playful jab at his dad, but his mum cut in.

‘What’s that on your head, Jake?’

Suddenly the mood was lost. Jake had forgotten about the scab on his forehead – a memento from his fight with the recently deceased footballer/criminal Devon Taylor. He pulled his fringe forwards.

‘It’s nothing, Mum.’

‘Let me see,’ she said, pulling him towards her. Jake didn’t fight it – what was the point? His mother pushed back his hair. Jake saw her eyes widen.

‘It looks worse than it is,’ he said.

‘It
looks
terrible!’ she said. ‘Are those stitches? How could you let this happen, Steve? That will scar!’

Jake felt sorry for his dad. ‘It’s not his fault, Mum. I was messing around … up a tree.’

His dad arched an eyebrow. Jake knew the excuse was lame, but it was the first one that came to mind. His dad would have to coach him on the fine art of fibbing. He could never tell his mum that the fight with Devon was one of the least life-threatening events in Russia.

His mum sighed. ‘You’re old enough to know better, Jake. And
you
…’ she stabbed a finger towards his dad ‘… I trusted you to look after him.’

His father’s face stiffened in anger.
Here it comes,
thought Jake –
the inevitable argument.

But Jake’s dad just shrugged. ‘You’re right, Hay. I was too busy …’

What’s he doing? Jake wondered.

‘You’re
always
too busy!’

‘So,’ his dad continued. ‘Maybe Jake should stay with you this week. Keep out of harm’s way.’

Hold up! thought Jake. Why does he want to get rid of me? He must be up to something for MI6.

‘I think that’s a very good idea,’ Hayley said.

‘Don’t I get a say in this?’ Jake said. There was no way he was going to miss out – on the football
or
the mission.

‘That’s settled, then,’ his dad said. He patted his jacket as a mobile phone rang. He pulled it out, looked at the display and frowned. ‘I need to take this. Wait here, will you?’

Jake was silently fuming as he watched his dad stride off. He’s probably going to make some covert calls. He’s already shrugging me off.

‘If he’s going to make us wait,’ his mum said, ‘we might as well make use of the time.’

Jake gave up on staring angrily after his father. He turned back to his mum only to come eye to lens with her camera.

‘That’s it,’ said Jake’s mum, snapping away. ‘Pout a bit more. Yeah, you look really moody.’

Jake held out his hand, feeling his cheeks flush. ‘Mum, stop it! This is
so
embarrassing.’

His mum stepped to one side, and snapped Jake’s profile. The camera looked like a traditional optical 35mm, but Jake knew it was a state-of-the-art digital. ‘Stand straighter. Don’t look at the camera. Look like you’re pissed off.’

‘I am,’ Jake muttered, but he couldn’t help smiling. People were starting to notice the impromptu photo session happening in their midst. They probably thought he was someone famous.

‘Right, now sit on your bag,’ his mum said. ‘Lean over, elbows on knees, hands clasped between your legs, head up, turn left.’

Jake did what she asked.

Three clicks in quick succession. ‘That’s great, Jake.’

‘It’s hardly the most amazing spot in Milan,’ he said as his mum stood up and readjusted the focus. ‘An airport terminal.’

His mum walked over, reviewing the pictures. ‘You’d be surprised. I’ve been doing so much studio work recently. My agent says there’s a good market for the informal stuff.’

‘I’m pretty sure no one wants pictures of me, though,’ he said.

His mum peered closer at the little screen. ‘What are you talking about? You’re a good-looking young man. Especially
with that rugged scar.’ She pursed her lips. ‘A pity it’s real.’

‘Mum, I said, it wasn’t Dad’s –’

‘Seriously, though,’ she interrupted. ‘You could get into modelling, Jake. You’ve got good musculature, and you look at least nineteen –’

‘That’s enough!’ he said. His dad was returning. Thank God. He didn’t know which was worse: posing for more photos or the idea of strutting down a catwalk.

His mum had turned to snap the new arrivals, trying to capture the joyful moments when their eyes fell on waiting loved ones.

‘What’s up?’ his dad asked. He looked a little anxious.

‘Mum’s working,’ Jake said, gesturing to her.

He noticed two men talking to each other and looking over at them.
Great!
thought Jake, as the men started making a beeline towards them.
More autograph hunters.

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