Authors: Alex Walters
Trust No One
Of course, this has to be dedicated to Christine, with thanks for everything. And to James, Adam and Jonny for their continuing love and support.
I'd also like to thank all those, necessarily nameless, who gave me advice and information about various aspects of undercover work. And thanks to Sammia Rafique, my excellent editor at Avon, and to Peter Buckman, as always a wonderful agent and an astute critic.
This has to be for Christine, of course. For everything.
, love, wherever you are.
The last time she saw Jake, Marie found herself awake, sometime after midnight, staring into the darkness. She told herself it was because they'd eaten late, because she'd drunk too much wine. Because tonight, after their conversation in the restaurant, after what had been said and not said, their lovemaking had left her restless rather than relaxed. All that was true, but she couldn't fool herself that it was the whole story.
She rolled over in the bed. Jake was asleep, on his back, snoring softly. She was tempted to wake him, caress him, hope that more sex would calm her tense nerves. The logic of the addict. A second impulse, maybe more rational, was simply to slip away, now, in the small hours. Put an end to all this before it was too late.
Jake deserved better. This was her mess, not his. Whatever she did, she had to do right by Jake. She'd sit down and talk to him properly. Tell him what she could. Not the whole truth. Probably not much of the truth. But something. Enough. Enough so he'd understand. One day soon.
She pushed back the duvet and sat up, for a moment enjoying the small-hours chill of the bedroom on her naked body. Beside her, Jake stirred, rolled over, but didn't wake. She eased herself out of bed and reached for the old dressing gown that Jake had loaned her. It was too small to have been Jake's, and she assumed that it had belonged to some past girlfriend. Fair enough. Jake's business.
Moving quietly across the room, she paused to gather up her handbag and the clothes she'd left neatly piled on the chair by the door. There was no point in staying in bed. She'd only toss and turn till she woke Jake, and despite her earlier impulse, that wasn't really what she wanted. She'd do what she often ended up doing these days, here and in her own flat. She'd make herself a hot drink, read a mindless magazine or watch some content-free television, or just sit out on Jake's balcony, listening to the distant ripple of the water and the sounds of the night. Calm herself to the point where she could sleep again.
And if that failed, she told herself, she'd wake Jake and give sex another shot after all.
With a kettle boiling in the kitchen, she dressed quickly, more conscious of the cold now. They'd had a quiet evening â a few drinks in the pub, an Italian, a bottle of wine between them â and her outfit was practical rather than decorative. Jeans, a sweater, smart boots.
She'd never doubted that she'd stay over again tonight. It had been inevitable long before she'd knocked back her first large red. But, as usual, she'd brought no change of clothes, reasoning that she'd have time in the morning to get back to the flat, to shower and change, before she needed to get to the shop. She told herself that it was because she wanted nothing taken for granted â but whether by herself or by Jake, she didn't know.
She made herself a decaff coffee and wandered back through to Jake's neat living room. It was like the man himself â unostentatious, slightly chaotic, primarily functional, but occasionally intriguing. The walls were bare except for two small but expensive-looking pieces of figurative art, sitting incongruously alongside a large signed photograph of the 1974 Leeds United team. Jake was a man with some obvious shallows and many hidden depths, only a few of which she'd so far managed to plumb.
She hovered by the television for a moment, then picked up her leather jacket from Jake's sofa. Returning to the kitchen, she turned off the light, then did the same in the hallway and the living room, plunging the flat back into darkness. Satisfied, she pulled open the large picture window that gave on to the balcony. It was one of the joys of Jake's quayside flat. Her own building looked out over the city, with a distant view of the Pennines and on a sunny day she could glimpse the grey-green hills between the buildings, giving an unexpected sense of space and distance amid the cluttered office blocks. But this was something different again, the kind of view that estate agents measured in the millions â a direct outlook over the heart of the quays and the old ship canal. Off to the right were the modernist lines and angles of the Lowry complex, and over the water the bewitching jumble of the Imperial War Museum. In the foreground to the left, glowing crimson, the imposing monolith of Old Trafford. Beyond all that, there was the mess of industrial buildings that formed Trafford Park. In the daylight, it felt like the ultimate urban landscape, a bustling blend of the old and the new, commerce and leisure. But at night, when the football crowds and concert-goers had disappeared, it was almost peaceful, with the gentle brush of the water against the quayside, the rippling lights across the face of the canal.
She closed the window behind her, and zipping up her jacket, lowered herself on to one of the chairs, adjusting the back so that she could stare up into the starlit sky. The constant glare of Manchester dimmed the spectacle, but it was a clear night and she could make out the scattered patterns of constellations. Beginning to relax for the first time since she'd woken, she closed her eyes, enjoying the moment of peace, imagining herself drifting away on the cool night air. Trying not to think.
Without realizing, she nodded into sleep and when she woke what might have been minutes or hours later, she had a sense that something â some noise, some movement â had invaded her consciousness. She sat up, trying to work out what had disturbed her. It was a half-familiar sensation â as if someone had been hammering at the door or pressing on the bell in the moments before she'd woken.
She glanced at her watch. She'd been asleep only for a few minutes. But something had changed. A light reflected off her watch. She twisted and saw that the hallway was illuminated. Probably Jake had got up to use the bathroom.
She climbed to her feet, preparing to go back inside. Then she stopped.
It took her a moment to work out what she was seeing. Through the picture window, past the living room, in the hallway. The front door half-open. A man standing in the hall, leaning on the frame of the bedroom door. Not Jake. Someone she didn't recognize at all.
There was something about the man's movements, his body language. It wasn't the posture of a house-breaker â not furtive, cautious, on edge. This was different.
The man was a pro. Somehow, even from this distance, with his back half-turned towards her, she had no doubt. A hitman. Fucking wet work. And Jake was the bloody target.
It wasn't entirely a surprise. She knew what Jake had done. She knew the kinds of enemies he must have made. And she knew that, in part, she was responsible.
Her first instinct was to try to intervene. But even as she was considering her options, the scene changed. The man pushed himself away from the doorframe and stood back. Two more figures appeared, dragging Jake, still naked, between them. Jake was half-resisting, half-falling. He'd been hit already, blood pouring from a cut in his temple, streaming down his pale face.
She moved back slowly, pressing herself against the balcony railing, keeping out of their line of sight as they manhandled Jake into the living room. Three of them. All pros. She could tell. She'd met people in that line of work. They were a type. Cold, calm, methodical to the point of compulsion. Psychopaths who'd found their vocation.
Her handbag, with her mobile inside, was on the floor by the patio chair. She eased herself forwards, moving as silently as possible. Inside the room, the men had thrown Jake on to the couch. He lay, crumpled, his hands clutched to his groin, blood now smeared across his chest. He looked semi-conscious.
She reached the handbag, pulled it to her, and began to fumble inside for her phone.
At that moment, the balcony was flooded with light.
She looked up, startled, momentarily dazzled. The balcony floodlights were operated from a panel of switches alongside the interior lights. One of the men had hit the lights for the living room and inadvertently turned on the external lamps at the same time.
She stood, caught in the high beam, conscious that at any moment one of the men might look in her direction. There was no time.
She backed to the balcony railing. It was only the second floor. She paused, trying to envisage the layout of the apartment block. There was another identical balcony immediately below. If she could reach that, it ought to be feasible to lower herself further and drop to the ground below. It was possible, she thought. She hoped.
Throwing the handbag around her neck, she hoisted herself up on to the railing. As she did so, one of the men looked up, his attention caught by her movement in his peripheral vision. She heard him shout something, but didn't wait to find out what.
She hung for a moment on the outside of the railing, then began to slide down, her feet desperately flailing for the top of the railing below. A drainpipe running down between the two floors gave another half-handhold, but she could barely cling on. Above, she could hear the window being dragged back.
She found her footing on the lower railing, paused for a breath, and then, clinging helplessly to the drainpipe, half-dropped, half-slid down again, her hands clutching for the top of the railing where her feet had been resting a moment before. She grasped it, and her fingers sliding agonizingly down the metal rails, lowered herself to the bottom of the lower balcony. From above, she could hear whispering voices, but could make out no words.
Hanging from the lower balcony, she twisted her neck to look down. Her feet were perhaps four or five feet above the ground. She realized with relief that she was hanging above one of the decorative flower beds that surrounded the building; a softer landing than the concrete that stretched away elsewhere.
She released her grip and dropped, landing and slipping awkwardly on the soft earth. She was momentarily winded, but was up and running almost immediately. Her car was parked on the street at the rear of the building. Even if the men had set off immediately, she should reach it before they could.
She pounded hard along the pathway, thanking Christ that she was wearing her low winter boots. Even so, she almost lost her footing on the slick paved surface as she turned the corner.
Her little Toyota was a hundred yards or so ahead, tucked into a row of other parked cars. She had her handbag open as she ran, struggling to find her keys. She glanced over her shoulder. The main doors of the apartment block were open. One of the men was peering out, maybe three or four hundred yards behind her.
She reached the car and pulled out the keys at more or less the same moment, thumbing open the central locking. Then she was in and starting the engine.
She looked in the rear-view mirror as the engine roared into life. As she pulled out into the road, she could see the man, still a long way behind. He'd halted in the doorway, aware that there was no point now in trying to pursue her.
She kept her foot down as she headed along the quays, the roads empty at this time of the night, passing between the lines of silent shops, restaurants, hotels, offices. The lights out on to Trafford Road were on red, but she didn't slow, hoping to Christ that no late-night patrol car was lurking nearby. Moments later, still with no other traffic around, she reached the roundabout and took a sharp left, her foot hard to the floor.
Once she was on the motorway, she finally relaxed enough to look in the mirror. There were no cars behind her. Breathing more slowly now, she pulled off at the next junction, taking a right and following the road round until she saw the massive complex of Salford Royal Hospital on her right. A good place to stop, she thought. In a hospital, people would be coming and going at all hours of the night. Her car wouldn't be conspicuous.
She took another right and entered the hospital grounds, following the signs to one of the visitors' car parks, pulling in among a small scattering of other cars. She paused for a moment to gather her wits, the panic finally subsiding, then dug out her mobile. She couldn't use the formal channels, couldn't reveal that she'd been in Jake's flat. She dialled 999 and gave a false name, reporting a break-in and serious assault at Jake's address. Her number was withheld, so there'd be no clue to her identity showing up on the operator's caller ID. She answered the questions as briefly as she could, trying to give nothing away. No, she didn't know what was happening, she was just a passer-by, didn't want to get involved. Then, feeling guilty at her own impotence, she ended the call.
It was all she could have done, but she felt no confidence that her call had been taken seriously. Then somewhere behind, in the heart of the city, she heard the rising wail of a police siren. Maybe they were already answering the call. Maybe.
She could feel her training kicking in, leading her through the ramifications of all this. Someone had taken out a contract on Jake. She could easily guess why and probably even who. But the real question was how. How had they known? And where did that leave her?
She tracked back through her movements of the previous evening, working out whether she'd left any sign of her presence, anything that would allow her to be identified. She'd taken her clothes, her bag, her mobile. There was nothing else, other than her DNA. No one was likely to make the link, unless she'd already been compromised.
The other question was whether the man had seen her car registration. She thought not. It was dark, she was pulling out from between parked cars, he was a long way away. But she couldn't be sure. If he had, she was a dead woman already.
Shit. The professional part of her mind was grinding through its dispassionate gears. But the other part of her brain was silently screaming. Jake. Jake lying naked, crouched at the feet of three professional fucking assassins. Jake with blood already pouring from him. Jake, her lover only hours before. Jake.
It was possible she'd frightened them off. They might have left the job unfinished. The police might have turned up in time. Any fucking thing might have happened.
But it wouldn't have. She knew that. They were pros. They always finished the job. They didn't leave witnesses. They got what they wanted.