Category Archives: October 2013

Rod Laver: A Memoir by Rod Laver – Extract

Rod Laver: A Memoir

Chapter 1

Bush boy

Tennis was a big part of my life from as far back as I can remember. What else was a kid to do? Growing up in those years when my family and I were moving around rural Queensland, I can’t remember a house, backyard or paddock that wasn’t littered with tennis racquets and tennis balls . . . along with, of course, footballs, cricket bats and six stitchers. And it wasn’t just me. If you lived in Australia in the ’40s and ’50s, those golden, more innocent times before the public tennis courts that were ubiquitous on Australia’s rural and suburban blocks were banished by houses, flats, offices, parking lots, factories and shopping malls, tennis was what you played. It was every bit as much a national pastime as cricket, footy and swimming. A tennis racquet was as prevalent in a boy’s life then as PlayStations, iPods and mobile phones are today. That being so, and with tennis-mad parents, brothers, in-laws and mates like mine, I had little choice but to play the game.

I was born on 9 August 1938, just one month before the American Donald Budge won the first ever tennis Grand Slam, in Rockhampton’s Tannachy Hospital, the third child of Melba (named after Dame Nellie, naturally) and Roy Laver. My brother Trevor was six years older and Bob had four years on me. Sister Lois arrived nine years after I came along. Dad was a cattleman, a loving, caring father but, like most bushies, a tough, hard bloke who treated his own farm injuries (mainly because there was no hospital handy). Home for us was Langdale, a 9300-hectare cattle property an hour’s drive from the town of Marlborough, which is 96 kilometres north of Rocky. My father, who was raised in Gippsland, Victoria, was one of 13 kids, eight of them boys, so the Laver brothers were able to field the best part of a cricket or football team and four tennis doubles teams in local comps. My mother also hailed from a sporting family, the Roffeys. Mum’s mother, Alice Roffey, rode horses until she passed away at age 90.

Queenslanders have always been tough, self-reliant people, but, apart from the heat, tropical rain and those beautiful old wide-verandah Queenslander homes, rural Queensland in the 1940s would be all but unrecognisable to anyone who has known it only in modern times. Most roads were unsealed, and I remember kangaroos bounding along- side the family car as we travelled the long distances from town to town, farm to farm. When I was a boy, with World War II being waged, the federal government introduced measures to aid the war effort. There were blackouts and brownouts in the cities and larger towns to deter Japanese air raids, food was rationed and fun was too, with sporting events confined to weekends. Mum and Dad had to carry personal ID cards. There were fewer blokes about because many were serving overseas. Short back and sides was the hairstyle of choice for Queensland men, the vast majority of whom smoked rollies and wore wide-brimmed felt hats and suit coats in a heatwave.

There was no TV back then, so radio was the main source of entertainment and war news. The newsreel that was screened before the cartoons and the double movie bill at the local picture theatre was another way of keeping up to date with how we were faring against the Germans and Japanese. Churches on Sundays were full to brimming. After church, people gathered in the church hall to devour sandwiches and tea and talk about the weather and its effect on crops, after which it was home for a Sunday roast with family and friends, no matter how hot the day. Eating out on a Sunday was impossible for the simple reason that pubs and cafes were not allowed to open on the Sabbath. Other days, when restaurants were open, proprietors insisted that male patrons wear a collar and tie. Lew Hoad told me how difficult it was to dine out when he was a young player travelling the rural Queensland tournament circuit. He said he was routinely abused and denied entry by restaurant staff if he entered dressed casually. Dressing to the nines can be a challenge when you’re living out of a suitcase.

When I was a toddler, Dad’s favourite sport was tennis and he was determined that it become ours. To this end my brothers carted great quantities of ant bed – you knock over an ant hill and crush the pebbles into smooth, hard grit, which plays a little like fast clay – and loam, laid it in the yard, surrounded it with a wire perimeter fence, erected a net, scratched out some markings . . . and we had our own tennis court. We rolled and watered it every day to stop it from cracking, or being washed or blown into the next paddock by rain or wind. That upkeep was a small price to pay given the fun we had on that ant-bed court. There was no quarter given or asked when I got a little older and played against my brothers, or against my parents for that matter, and making it even more interesting was that the court’s bounce was anything but true so you had no clue where the ball was going to go. Centre court at Wimbledon it was not.

What with tennis on our makeshift court, backyard cricket in wide, grassy paddocks and doing my lessons – reluctantly, I have to admit – by correspondence, life was idyllic on the property for the Laver boys, little blokes with sun hats, T-shirts, shorts and no shoes. With my flaming hair, sticking-out ears and 49,000 freckles, I’m told I was the spitting image of Ginger Meggs in the Sunday newspaper comics. We hunted kangaroos and rode horses, playing at being cowboys. That Langdale paddock became the endless plains of the wild west, even though horses and I got off to an unfortunate start. When I was two, Dad lifted me up into the saddle of one of our horses and led it across the paddock but somewhere along the way I fell off without my father realising and when he reached the stable and saw the empty saddle he hightailed it back to retrieve me.

Life was everything a boy could wish for, so we were not pleased when Dad, who wasn’t the only one finding it tough to make ends meet on the land, took us off the property and relocated us all to a house in the backblocks of Marlborough, where he’d found work as a butcher. Trevor, Bob and I attended the tiny local school where I excelled at tennis against my school mates – though unlike my tennis pals, schoolwork got the better of me.

When I was 10, we moved again, to Rockhampton, because Dad, now in his 50s, could make more money butchering in a bigger town. Besides, he and Mum believed my brothers and I would receive a better education at Rockhampton Grammar School than at Marlborough. And, even more importantly, there was a well-organised tennis competition at the Rockhampton Association courts, where my parents played mixed doubles, and my brothers and I singles and doubles. It was about then that I realised I had a better-than-ordinary talent to follow and strike a tennis ball, and being naturally left-handed probably helped me too because lefties were in the minority so I was awkward for others to play against.

We lived on Lakes Creek Road for a while and then moved to a Queenslander in Main Street Park Avenue. I’m told I had a thing for climbing up onto the roof of our house and sitting there, only coming down when I got hungry. I was at Rocky Grammar for three years and then finished my primary education at Park Avenue School near our home before following Trevor and Bob to Rockhampton High School, which they left after completing the first two years. Trev then worked in our cousin Len Laver’s sports store and Bob, much to everyone’s envy, got a job at Paul’s Ice Cream Works.

Right through school, I was a handy cricketer, a batsman and a left-arm spinner who bowled leg breaks. One after- noon when I was 11, I came home after playing cricket for my school and when Trevor asked me how I’d fared I said, ‘Oh, okay, I guess, I took nine wickets for seven runs.’ I wasn’t being modest, it was just no big deal for me. I don’t think I even realised these were amazing figures. As far as I was concerned I’d just had a good day and a whole lot of fun.

I was a keen fisherman, sitting for hours on the banks of the Fitzroy River and often returning home in the gathering dusk with a sugar bag filled with fish for dinner. I hear that fishing is one of the most dangerous of pastimes and it certainly proved hazardous for me when, after netting barramundi in the Fitzroy, I suffered a mishap that easily could have ruined my tennis career. I was absent-mindedly digging my fish-cleaning knife into the sand when it hit a rock and somehow the blade sliced into my left hand, my racquet hand, and severed the tendon in my little finger. Another centimetre or two and it could have cut off my fingers or slashed the arteries in my wrist. The cut bled heavily. I staunched the flow by wrapping my hand in my T-shirt and ran home. We lived too far from the hospital to have the cut stitched and the wound, though a nasty one, healed itself in time. To this day I have no feeling in that finger. Playing tennis, I had to alter my racquet grip to compensate for the injury, and my fingers, which forever after would stick stiffly out, were always catching on the left-hand side pocket of my shorts. In the end, Mum sewed up my pocket.

In many respects life today is better for children, but I reckon in some ways we had it very good. Surely playing games in the open air and swimming and fishing for barramundi in Moore Creek and the waterhole at Park Avenue Powerhouse is better than going cross-eyed in front of a computer game screen or living life vicariously watching TV. We had our movies, but even a night at the flicks was an adventure for us in those long-ago country Queensland days. In Rockhampton there was an outdoor theatre . . . just a big canvas screen set up in a vacant lot with rows of folding chairs in front of it (though you could sit on the grass if you wanted) and a projector that shone its magical rays through hordes of bugs and summer moths up onto the canvas rectangle. Somehow, in my memory, it was always John Wayne rounding up the baddies on that screen, and rain, hail or moonlight we wouldn’t leave until the big fella had brought the last black-hatted desperado to justice. Even today, 60 years on and with the Duke long a resident of Boot Hill, I’m one of his biggest fans and will happily watch a western any day of the week. When I was touring on the pro circuit with Alex Olmedo, it bothered him that the Indians always got it in the neck in the westerns we watched at the movies or on the hotel room TV. So Alex, who was an Inca Indian from Peru whose nickname was ‘The Chief’, would wait until the Indians were winning, usually in the very early part of the movie, and then he’d up and leave before they inevitably bit the dust in the final reel. ‘I know we Indians will lose in the end, so I’m getting out of here while we’re still ahead,’ he’d say.

When Dad was looking for a place for us to live, one of his requirements was that the yard must have sufficient room for us to lay another homemade tennis court. At the Main Street Park Avenue house we were able to clear the scrub and Dad, Bob, Trev and I carted the soil and silt in his truck from the Fitzroy River and laid the court in the clearing. The good thing about silt, apart from being a good playing surface, is that when it dries and it’s windy the sand is blown off but when you water it again, more sand rises and holds it all together.

This time, we fitted out our home court for night play by stringing four 1500-watt light bulbs on an overhead wire down the centre of the court. Any of us kids who broke a bulb with a lob or smash was in for it. Those lights were dim, so consequently our eyes grew sharp trying to see the ball in the gloom and the ability I acquired to see the ball clearly and early stood me in good stead right through my career. The Lavers’ court was a magnet for local tennis players and was in constant use, as we played against each other and all-comers from kilometres around. One fellow who extended us was the young future champion Mal Anderson. Both my brothers were excellent players. Trevor was possibly the better, but Bob was no slouch and would grow up to be a tennis coach. One thing about Trev, though: when he played his emotions bubbled to the surface. If he was struggling in a match, everyone knew about it. He grumbled and griped and his shoulders sagged. I enjoyed playing against him when he was angry, because his mind wasn’t on the match. It occurred to me that it would benefit me to play without emotion – well, without emotion that others could see, anyway. Card players profited from having a poker face so opponents wouldn’t know how good or bad their hand was, and I figured a deadpan expression would work in tennis, too.

I was always happy when one of my brothers came home from school before the other, because then he’d be forced to have a hit-up with me. As soon as my other brother arrived, I’d be booted off the court so they could play each other. ‘Scram, kid,’ they’d say. One solution was to find Mum and she’d team with me to play Trevor and Bob in doubles. If she couldn’t, I’d occupy myself hitting against a wall, studying what a ball did on impact after I’d connected with a particular shot: would it shoot forward, spin back towards me or to the side, bounce high or drop dead? I also hit along a grass cricket pitch. One day Dad came home with the wood to build a back wall. My job was to screw the wooden panels onto a wooden frame. I did it wrong and assembled the panels vertically instead of horizontally, which meant that the panels warped. Happily, there was an up-side. When I hit a tennis ball against the wonky wall, the ball came back at me any which way and I had to be in position to return it. All of this helped my reflexes, anticipation and my footwork enormously.

I loved tennis. It seemed the natural game for me to play. I played in the rain and the wind, and under the blistering Queensland sun, which would soon cause my floppy sun hat to become saturated with sweat. To counter that, on very hot days I occasionally placed wet cabbage leaves inside my hat to keep my head wet and cool. Over the years, some media profiles of me have made out that I never left home without my hat filled with cabbage leaves. Nice story, but not true.

What I loved was the satisfaction of hitting the ball sweetly, the running to ram home a point or save one, the one-on-one combative nature of the game, facing up to an opponent and testing yourself against him. I think only boxing is as confrontational. There is a kinship between the two sports. You have two people facing each other in a contained space, probing for weakness and attacking it. Tennis players and boxers need footwork, timing and stamina.


Excerpted from Rod Laver: A Memoir by Rod Laver. Copyright © 2013 by Rod Laver.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure – Extract

The Paris Architect

1

Just as Lucien Bernard rounded the corner at the rue La Boétie, a man running from the opposite direction almost collided with him. He came so close that Lucien could smell his cologne as he raced by.

In the very second that Lucien realized he and the man wore the same scent, L’Eau d’Aunay, he heard a loud crack. He turned around. Just two meters away, the man lay face down on the sidewalk, blood streaming from the back of his bald head as though someone had turned on a faucet inside his skull. The dark crimson fluid flowed quickly in a narrow rivulet down his neck, over his crisp white collar, and then onto his well-tailored navy blue suit, changing its color to a rich deep purple.

There had been plenty of killings in Paris in the two years since the beginning of the German occupation in 1940, but Lucien had never actually seen a dead body until this moment. He was oddly mesmerized, not by the dead body, but by the new color the blood had produced on his suit. In an art class at school, he had to paint boring color wheel exercises. Here before him was bizarre proof that blue and red indeed made purple.

“Stay where you are!”

A German officer holding a steel-blue Luger ran up alongside him, followed by two tall soldiers with submachine guns, which they immediately trained on Lucien.

“Don’t move, you bastard, or you’ll be sleeping next to your friend,” said the officer.

Lucien couldn’t have moved if he’d wanted to; he was frozen with fear.

The officer walked over to the body, then turned and strolled up to Lucien as if he were going to ask him for a light. About thirty years old, the man had a fine aquiline nose and very dark, un-Aryan brown eyes, which now stared deeply into Lucien’s gray-blue ones. Lucien was unnerved. Shortly after the Germans took over, several pamphlets had been written by Frenchmen on how to deal with the occupiers. Maintain dignity and distance, do not talk to them, and above all, avoid eye contact. In the animal world, direct eye contact was a challenge and a form of aggression. But Lucien couldn’t avoid breaking this rule with the German’s eyes just ten centimeters from his.

“He’s not my friend,” Lucien said in a quiet voice. The German’s face broke out into a wide grin.

“This kike is nobody’s friend anymore,” said the officer, whose uniform indicated he was a major in the Waffen-SS. The two soldiers laughed.

Though Lucien was so scared that he thought he had pissed himself, he knew he had to act quickly or he could be lying dead on the ground next. Lucien managed a shallow breath to brace himself and to think. One of the oddest aspects of the Occupation was how incredibly pleasant and polite the Germans were when dealing with their defeated French subjects. They even gave up their seats on the Metro to the elderly.

Lucien tried the same tack.

“Is that your bullet lodged in the gentleman’s skull?” he asked. “Yes, it is. Just one shot,” the major said. “But it’s really not all that impressive. Jews aren’t very athletic. They run so damn slow it’s never much of a challenge.”

The major began to go through the man’s pockets, pulling out papers and a handsome alligator wallet, which he placed in the side pocket of his green and black tunic. He grinned up at Lucien.

“But thank you so much for admiring my marksmanship.”

A wave of relief swept over Lucien—this wasn’t his day to die. “You’re most welcome, Major.”

The officer stood. “You may be on your way, but I suggest you visit a men’s room first,” he said in a solicitous voice. He gestured with his gray gloved hand at the right shoulder of Lucien’s gray suit.

“I’m afraid I splattered you. This filth is all over the back of your suit, which I greatly admire, by the way. Who is your tailor?”

Craning his neck to the right, Lucien could see specks of red on his shoulder. The officer produced a pen and a small brown notebook.

“Monsieur. Your tailor?”

“Millet. On the rue de Mogador.” Lucien had always heard that Germans were meticulous record keepers.

The German carefully wrote this down and pocketed his notebook in his trouser pocket.

“Thank you so much. No one in the world can surpass the artistry of French tailors, not even the British. You know, the French have us beat in all the arts, I’m afraid. Even we Germans concede that Gallic culture is vastly superior to Teutonic—in everything except fighting wars, that is.” The German laughed at his observation, as did the two soldiers.

Lucien followed suit and also laughed heartily.

After the laughter subsided, the major gave Lucien a curt salute. “I won’t keep you any longer, monsieur.”

Lucien nodded and walked away. When safely out of earshot, he muttered “German shit” under his breath and continued on at an almost leisurely pace. Running through the streets of Paris had become a death wish—as the poor devil lying facedown in the street had found out. Seeing a man murdered had frightened him, he realized, but he really wasn’t upset that the man was dead. All that mattered was that he wasn’t dead. It bothered him that he had so little compassion for his fellow man.

But no wonder—he’d been brought up in a family where compassion didn’t exist.

His father, a university-trained geologist of some distinction, had had the same dog-eat-dog view of life as the most ignorant peasant. When it came to the misfortune of others, his philosophy had been tough shit, better him than me. The late Professor Jean-Baptiste Bernard hadn’t seemed to realize that human beings, including his wife and children, had feelings. His love and affection had been heaped upon inanimate objects—the rocks and minerals of France and her colonies—and he demanded that his two sons love them as well. Before most children could read, Lucien and his older brother, Mathieu, had been taught the names of every sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock in every one of France’s nine geological provinces.

His father tested them at suppertime, setting rocks on the table for them to name. He was merciless if they made even one mistake, like the time Lucien couldn’t identify bertrandite, a member of the silicate family, and his father had ordered him to put the rock in his mouth so he would never forget it. To this day, he remembered bertrandite’s bitter taste.

He had hated his father, but now he wondered if he was more like his father than he wanted to admit.

As Lucien walked on in the glaring heat of the July afternoon, he looked up at the buildings clad in limestone (a sedimentary rock of the calcium carbonate family), with their beautiful rusticated bases, tall windows outlined in stone trim, and balconies with finely detailed wrought-iron designs supported on carved stone consoles. Some of the massive double doors of the apartment blocks were open, and he could see children playing in the interior courtyards, just as he had done when he was a boy. He passed a street-level window from which a black and white cat gazed sleepily at him.

Lucien loved every building in Paris—the city of his birth, the most beautiful city in the world. In his youth, he had roamed all over Paris, exploring its monuments, grand avenues, and boulevards down to the grimiest streets and alleys in the poorest districts. He could read the history of the city in the walls of these buildings. If that Kraut bastard’s aim had been off, never again would he have seen these wonderful buildings, walk these cobblestone streets, or inhale the delicious aroma of baking bread in the boulangeries.

Farther down the rue la Boétie, he could see shopkeepers standing back from their plate-glass windows—far enough to avoid being spotted from the street but close enough to have seen the shooting. A very fat man motioned to him from the entrance of the Café d’Été. When he reached the door, the man, who seemed to be the owner, handed him a wet bar towel.

“The bathroom’s in the back,” he said.

Lucien thanked him and walked to the rear of the café. It was a typical dark Parisian café, narrow, a black-and-white-tiled floor with small tables along a wall, and a very poorly stocked bar on the opposite side. The Occupation had done the unthinkable in Paris: it had cut off a Frenchman’s most basic necessities of life—cigarettes and wine. But the café was such an ingrained part of his existence that he still went there daily to smoke fake cigarettes made from grass and herbs and drink the watered-down swill that passed for wine. The Café d’Été patrons, who had probably seen what had happened, stopped talking and looked down at their glasses when Lucien passed, acting as if he’d been contaminated by his contact with the Germans. It reminded him of the time he’d been in a café when five German enlisted men blundered in. The place had gone totally silent, as if someone had turned off a switch on a radio. The soldiers had left immediately.

In the filthy bathroom, Lucien took off his suit jacket to begin the cleanup. A few blobs of blood the size of peas dotted the back of the jacket, and one was on the sleeve. He tried to blot out the Jew’s blood, but faint stains remained. This annoyed him—he only had one good business suit. A tall, handsome man with a full head of wavy brown hair, Lucien was quite particular about his clothes. His wife, Celeste, was clever about practical matters, though. She could probably get the bloodstains out of his jacket. He stood back and looked at himself in the mirror above the sink to make sure there wasn’t any blood on his face or in his hair, then suddenly looked at his watch and realized his appointment was in ten minutes. He put his jacket back on and threw the soiled towel in the sink.

Once in the street, he couldn’t help looking back at the corner where the shooting had taken place. The Germans and the body were gone; only a large pool of blood marked the spot of the shooting. The Germans were unbelievably efficient people. The French would have stood around the corpse, chatting and smoking cigarettes. Full rigor mortis would have set in by the time they had carted it away. Lucien almost started trotting but slowed his pace to a brisk walk. He hated being late, but he wasn’t about to be shot in the back of the skull because of his obsession with punctuality. Monsieur Manet would understand. Still, this meeting held the possibility of a job, and Lucien didn’t want to make a bad first impression.

Lucien had learned early in his career that architecture was a business as well as an art, and one ought not look at a first job from a new client as a one-shot deal but rather as the first in a series of commissions. And this one had a lot of promise. The man he was to meet, Auguste Manet, owned a factory that until the war used to make engines for Citroën and other automobile makers. Before an initial meeting with a client, Lucien would always research his background to see if he had money, and Monsieur Manet definitely had money. Old money, from a distinguished family that went back generations. Manet had tried his hand at industry, something his class frowned upon. Wealth from business was considered dirty, not dignified. But he had multiplied the family fortune a hundredfold, cashing in on the automobile craze, specializing in engines.

Manet was in an excellent position to obtain German contracts during the Occupation. Even before the German invasion in May 1940, a mass exodus had begun, with millions fleeing the north of the country to the south, where they thought they’d be safe. Many industrialists had tried unsuccessfully to move their entire factories, including the workers, to the south. But Manet had remained calm during the panic and stayed put, with all his factories intact.

Normally, a defeated country’s economy ground to a halt, but Germany was in the business of war. It needed weapons for its fight with the Russians on the Eastern Front, and suitable French businesses were awarded contracts to produce war materiel. At first, French businessmen had viewed cooperation with the Germans as treason, but faced with a choice of having their businesses appropriated by the Germans without compensation or accepting the contracts, the pragmatic French had chosen the latter. Lucien was betting that Manet was a pragmatic man and that he was producing weapons for the Luftwaffe or the Wehrmacht. And that meant new factory space, which Lucien could design for him.

Before the war, whenever Lucien was on his way to meet a client for the first time, his imagination ran wild with visions of success— especially when he knew the client was rich. He tried to rein in his imagination now, telling himself to be pessimistic. Every time he got his hopes up high these days, they were smashed to bits. Like in 1938, when he was just about to start a store on the rue de la Tour d’Auvergne and then the client went bankrupt because of a divorce. Or the big estate in Orléans whose owner was arrested for embezzlement. He told himself to be grateful for any crumb of work that he could find in wartime.

Having nearly forgotten the incident with the Jew, Lucien’s mind began to formulate a generic design of a factory that would be quite suitable for any type of war production. As he turned up the avenue Marceau, he smiled as he always did whenever he thought of a new design.


Excerpted from The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure. Copyright © 2013 by Charles Belfoure.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

My Story: Elizabeth Smart – Extract

My Story: Elizabeth Smart

Prologue

November 2001

We had just walked out of the ZCMI store in downtown Salt Lake City. The heavily tinted windows, with their grated iron accents, were at our backs as we waited to cross the street. Traffic was light. I re member it was cold. The Mormon temple and visitor center was just a block away and high-rise buildings rose on every side. Salt Lake City was getting ready for the Winter Olympics and there was construction all around. The sky was gray and clear, and the sun was moving quickly toward the western horizon. There weren’t a lot of pedestrians—winter was coming on—so the beggar was hard to ignore, standing among the well-dressed crowd.

He didn’t seem to notice as we walked by. I was on my mother’s right, my little sister on her left, holding my mother’s hand. We had been shopping, and I carried a couple of little bags. I was a teenager, but just barely, with blond hair and blue eyes. As we walked, I re member glancing at my mother. She was very pretty. I liked being with her. She was one of my best friends.

Salt Lake City was not a dangerous place, and I had the luxury of growing up with a mother who was open and unassuming. Her demeanor was friendly yet careful.

Standing by the beggar, waiting to cross the street, I looked and made eye contact with him; my brothers had already seen him and had come back to ask my mom if we had any work for him.

Mom glanced at him warily, not wanting to stare. I don’t remember a lot about him, but I do recall that he was clean-cut and well groomed. No beard. No robes. No singing or talking about prophets or visions or being the Chosen One. All of that would come later. For now, he appeared to be nothing more than a normal guy who had hit a rough patch in his life. He certainly didn’t seem to be dangerous or threatening.

“I thought he was a man down on his luck,” my mom would later testify. “He just lost his job, looked young enough that maybe he had a family, people he was responsible for.”

So she walked toward him, five dollars in her hand. I held back, my hair blowing in the autumn wind.

He glanced in my direction, seeming to take me in from the corner of his eye. I gave him a quick smile. I felt sorry for him and was happy when my mother handed him the money.

What I didn’t know—but would later learn—was that he had been watching me very carefully as we walked toward him. He had taken the opportunity to study me further as my mother searched through her purse. He remembered everything about me: the clothes that I was wearing, my blond hair, the way I looked up at my mother, the color of my eyes.

And though he was very careful not to show it, he decided at that moment that I was the one.

1.

Elizabeth

It’s funny, some of the things that I remember, many of the details forever burned in my mind.

It’s as if I can still smell the air, hear the mountain leaves rustle above me, feel the fabric of the veil that Brian David Mitchell stretched across my face. I can picture every detail of my surroundings: the tent, the washbasin, the oppressive dugout full of spiders and mice. I can feel the cut of the steel cable wrapped so tightly around my ankle, the scorch of the summer heat lifting off the side of the hill, the swaying of the Greyhound bus as we fled to California. I can still see the people who were around me, their blank expressions, their fear of how we were dressed, my veil and the dirty robes, the looks of confusion in their eyes.

I remember so many overwhelming feelings and emotions. Terror that is utterly indescribable, even to this day. Embarrassment and shame so deep, I felt as if my very worth had been tossed upon the ground. Despair. Starving hunger. Fatigue and thirst and a nakedness that bares one to the bones. Intruding hands. Pain and burning. The leering of his dark eyes. A deep longing for my family. A heartbreaking yearning to go home.

All of these memories are a part of me now, the DNA inside me. Indeed, these are the things that have moved and shaped me, sometimes twisting, sometimes wrenching me into the person I am today.

Sometime long before I was taken, I had been told that when someone dies, the first thing you forget is the sound of their voice. This thought terrified me. What if I could no longer remember my mother’s voice, a sound I had heard every day of my life! I started to think of her, and other members of my family and their voices. I started to think of all the things my mom used to tell me every day: Have a good day at school. I love you. Have a good night. I would have given anything to hear her at that moment.

Every morning she used to sing at the top of her lungs, “Oh what a beautiful morning . . .”

I used to hate it.

What would I have given to hear her voice again!

Over the first few weeks of captivity, I forced myself to think of things like that. I remember sitting in the heat of the summer, the sun baking on my back, forcing myself to think of my mom’s voice, her laugh. How beautiful she looked in her black skirt and gold top. The shape and the color of her eyes.

But there were other feelings too. And though it might be hard to understand, a few of them were good, for they show the things you cling to when everything is gone.

I remember the pure rush of gratitude for any time that I could sleep. The realization that I would live another day! Relief when the sun went down and the heat gave way to the cool of the night. Gratefulness for food or water. A few minutes when I might be left alone. The ability to slip into a state of pure survival, a state of blankness, a quiet and painless place where I could shut the world down.

Looking back, I realized that at one point, early on the morning of the first day, something had changed inside me. After I had been raped and brutalized, there was something new inside my soul. There was a burning now inside me, a fierce determination that no matter what I had to do, I was going to live!

This determination was the only thing that gave me any hope— the realization that as long as I could survive one more day or one more hour, I might find a way to get back home.

I also discovered something that is harder to imagine, and much more difficult to explain.

Sometime during the first couple of days, I realized that I wasn’t alone. There were others there beside me, unseen but not unfelt. Sometimes I could picture them beside me, reaching for my hand.

And that is one of the reasons I am still alive.

When I think back on those dark days of my capture, I realize my story didn’t start on the night that David Brian Mitchell slipped into my bedroom and held a knife at my throat. In an odd way, my story began a few days before. Sunday afternoon. In my home. Just a few days before my world was torn apart.

Over time, I have gained an enormous appreciation for what I experienced on that Sunday. It has helped me to keep perspective. It helped to give me hope. And it helped me understand a little better why things might have happened the way they did.


Excerpted from My Story: Elizabeth Smart by Elizabeth Smart. Copyright © 2013 by Elizabeth Smart.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Still Foolin’ ‘Em by Billy Crystal – Extract

Still Foolin' 'Em

Celebrate Your Birthdays

Honestly, my mom always made me feel special on my birthday, March 14. When I was a young boy, she used to wake me up at the exact time I was born: 7:36 A.M. As I grew older and moved out of the house, it became the phone call at 7:36 A.M. Even after I got married and had kids of my own, I always woke up looking forward to her call—it started the day off on the right foot. I put that tradition into City Slickers, with Jayne Meadows’s voice playing my mom on the other end of the line. Mom’s been gone since 2001, but come March 14, I still get up early and look at the alarm clock, and at 7:36, in my mind I hear the phone ring. Her call always ended with her saying, “Do something special.” I didn’t even mind that she called collect.

The most special thing I ever did on my birthday was when my life’s dream came true: I got to play for the New York Yankees.

In 2007, I was in Costa Rica for Christmas vacation and could feel my birthday looming. I was anxious about turning sixty — it felt like a huge number. Derek Jeter happened to be at our hotel. I’d known Derek since his rookie year, and we’d become friends. I told Derek I was going to be sixty and was a little freaked out about it. Jeter asked, “If you could do one thing to make yourself happy, what would it be? You should do something special.” Somewhere, my mom was smiling.

I knew my answer to Jeter’s question right away. When Joe Torre was the Yankees’ manager, he had let me work out with the team many times, even before World Series games. Joe and I were very close friends, and he not only knew I could handle myself on the field but thought my presence might even relax the guys. Infield practice was the most fun. I was still a good player, having been an outstanding (if I say so myself ) high school second baseman and shortstop, and had played in leagues in New York and Los Angeles into my forties. My skills, though hardly professional, were solid. I still take batting practice regularly in a cage at home, and every morning my gym workout ends with a “catch.” Turning double plays with Jeter on the historic infield of old Yankee Stadium was an enormous thrill. I wanted to do it again—this time, for real.

I came up with a plan where I would get one at bat in a spring training game. Whatever happens, happens, and I then announce my retirement and throw the team a party. Jeter loved the idea, and a few weeks before my sixtieth birthday, he and George Steinbrenner, Lonn Trost, Randy Levine, Brian Cashman, Bud Selig, and Major League Baseball gave me the greatest birthday gift ever: the Yankees would sign me to a one-day contract, and I would play against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a spring training game in Tampa. The game was on March 13, 2008, the day before my sixtieth birthday.

The official contract was for $4 million! But the nice part was that the Yankees gave me three days to come up with the money. We worked it out so that I would be the DH—designated Hebrew. Even though I wasn’t going to be in the field, I needed to prepare. As you get older, there’s a fine line between getting a walk and just wandering away from the batter’s box. So I went into training.

Reggie Smith, the former great player who’d trained my “Maris and Mantle” — Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane— for  61*, has a baseball academy in Encino, California. He is a great teacher, and a better man. When I told him what was happening, he was almost as excited as I was. We didn’t have a lot of time, but every day I worked on my swing with Reggie and his son (also a great teacher), against live pitching. As I left the West Coast for this great moment—accompanied by my good pal Robin Williams and some dear friends from high school — I was hitting eighty-five-mile-per-hour fastballs and felt as ready as a fifty-nine-year-old comedian can feel as he’s about to play for the New York Yankees.

Trivia freaks will know that I was the oldest person ever to play for the Yankees, and the first player ever to test positive for Maalox. I actually did have to undergo routine testing. When they asked me for blood and urine, I gave them my underwear. The day before the game, I met with Yankee manager Joe Girardi. He wanted me to lead off and play left field. I said that was too far to run. We agreed that I would lead off and DH and have just the one at bat. Joe wanted me to score a run if I could. I wasn’t sure (again, that’s a long way to run), so we agreed that if I did get on base, Johnny Damon would pinch-run for me. It would be more theatrical, so to speak. I signed my contract with Lonn Trost and Jean Afterman and went and got dressed in the clubhouse. I knew most of the guys in there and had been in the clubhouse many times, but this felt unreal — I was one of them. In a strange way, I was very relaxed about it. It was so natural for me to wait until everyone had left the clubhouse so I could take off my clothes and put on my uniform. Just like high school gym class.

The team was on a road trip, and I spent that day working out with Derek and José Molina, who’d stayed back in Tampa. I took batting practice with Jeter and José while a small crowd and many camera crews looked on. I was on my game, hitting line drive after line drive. I know I shocked everyone, which was a great feeling. But I was in great shape and ready. Tino Martinez was throwing me sixty-mile-per-hour fastballs while Janice videotaped from a distance. Derek saw her and motioned for her to come over by him at the cage. She whispered to him, “How fast is Tino throwing?”

“One-oh-seven,” Derek whispered back.

I couldn’t sleep that night. It was really happening. I arrived at the park early the next morning. Girardi met me and we hung out a little, and to this day I can’t thank him enough for welcoming me the way he did. This was his first year with the club, and the last thing he needed was some aging leading man as his lead-off man. Yet he treated me like a ballplayer, which is what I was that day. I did my pregame stretching and conditioning drills with the club and, of course, was then ready for a nap. Batting practice was amazing. I was in the cage with Derek and Damon and Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. When the guys nodded to one another that I was okay, I was on cloud nine. The hard part was that once batting practice was over, we had about an hour and a half till game time. I could feel my sphincter tighten, as well as my lower back and hamstrings. Now it wasn’t just fun, it was really on.

I had lunch with Derek and Jorge and tried to be cool, but I was getting more and more anxious. Jorge and Derek were so easy with me. We all ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches: the same meal I always had before games in high school and all the league games I’d played in and, actually, before hosting the Oscars. After lunch I went to put my game uniform on, and that’s when the pranks started. My shoelaces were cut, so when I went to tie them, they came off in my hands. The toes on my socks were cut as well, so when I pulled them on, my foot went through. I took it all in good stride, trying to act like nothing bothered me, as I knew the guys were watching. I was careful putting on my cup, as the fear of hot sauce loomed. The pranks continued — my hat switched with one that didn’t fit, my glove missing, a belt with no holes — until it was time to go to the dugout.

The stands were full as I bounded onto the field with the team to loosen up. A big roar from the crowd made me feel great, until I realized that A-Rod and Jeter were standing next to me. The national anthem was played, and I had a tear in my eye as I looked into the stands to see my brothers, Joel and Rip, and my daughter Jenny, and of course Janice. Mike Mussina threw a perfect first inning, and then I was up. When the announcer introduced me with “Leading off for the Yankees, the designated hitter, number 60, Billy Crystal,” I just about lost it. Since I’d been a kid, playing with my dad, brothers, or friends, I’d always dreamed of this moment, and now it was real. The crowd gave me a tremendous hand as I left the on-deck circle. “Hack,” (meaning swing) said Jeter, patting me on the helmet.

The Pirates’ pitcher was Paul Maholm: six foot two, 220 pounds, from Mississippi. Never been to a Seder. I was nervous, but the one thing I was not nervous about was getting hit by a pitch. It never entered my mind. If Maholm hit me, I’d sue. You ever see a Jew get hit by a pitch? They get plunked in the leg and they grab their neck. Whiplash! Once I’d found out the date of the game, I’d gone to the Pirates’ website to see who’d be pitching. I’d then watched Maholm strike out Barry Bonds. A real confidence builder. I studied his motion and his release point and tried to visualize what hitting off him would be like. As I approached the plate, the ump greeted me, as did the Pirates’ catcher. I watched Maholm’s warm-up pitches, looking for the release point I had seen on the website, and told myself,  I can do this.

“Play ball!”

I stepped in. Since 1956, from the time I had seen Mickey Mantle play in the first game at the stadium I’d gone to, I had wanted to be a Yankee.

So there I am in the batter’s box fifty-two years after that first game, my heart beating into the NY logo on my chest. Maholm is staring in for the sign, and I’m staring back, trying to look like I belong. Here comes the first pitch: ninety-two miles an hour. Ball one. I never see it, but it sounds outside. The ball makes a powerful thud in the catcher’s glove. I want to say, “Holy s__t,” but I act like I see one of those every day. In fact, I do: on TV, not in the F___ING BATTER’S BOX. The count is 1 and 0. He comes in with a fastball, a little up and away, and I hit a screaming line drive down the first base line, which means I didn’t hit it that hard but I’m screaming, “I hit it! I hit it!” Someone yells, “DOUBLE!” Which would be tough because I can’t run like I used to and on my way to second base I’d have to stop twice to pee. The last time a Jew my age ran that fast, the caterer was closing down the buffet.

But I’m still thinking double. The ump is thinking, Foul ball. I had made contact with a major league fastball. Okay, 1 and 1. Ball inside, 2 and 1, and another ball and it’s 3 and 1. I’m this close to getting to first base, just like at my prom. I look over, and Derek Jeter is in the on-deck circle yelling, “Swing, swing!”

The windup, the pitch. It’s a cutter. The nastiest cutter I’ve seen since my bris. But I swing and miss. The first time I’ve swung and missed in two days at Tampa. Now it’s 3 and 2. The crowd stands up. This is my only shot, my only at bat. Ever. Maholm winds, I look to the release point, and there it is: eighty-nine miles per hour, a cut fastball, the same pitch he threw to that obstructer of justice Barry Bonds. I swing over it. Strike three. I’m out of there.

I head back to the bench, but before I do, I check with the ump: “Strike?” He shakes his head no: low and inside. I’m so mad I missed it, and also mad I didn’t take the pitch, that I almost don’t hear the crowd standing and cheering. The guys are giving me high fives. Girardi hugs me, then Kevin Long, the great hitting coach, and then Jorge. Then, for the first time in baseball history, they stop the game and give the batter a ball for striking out. A-Rod hands it to me, saying, “Great at bat!” My teammates greet me as if I’ve just hit a home run. Mariano Rivera hugs me, and others keep saying the same thing:

“Six pitches, man, you saw six pitches!”

I sit with Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry for a few innings, and if that isn’t cool enough, I’m asked to come up to Mr. Steinbrenner’s office. In full uniform I walk into the boss’s lair. He gives me a big hug and then says with a straight face that I’ve been traded for Jerry Seinfeld.


Excerpted from STILL FOOLIN’ ‘EM: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys? by Billy Crystal. Copyright © 2013 by Jennilind LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

War Clouds Gather by Peter Watt – Extract

War Clouds Gather

Prologue

Central Queensland, Australia

My name is Wallarie; I am a Nerambura man of the Darambal people, and you stand on the place of my Dreaming, where I lived for almost a hundred of your whitefella years.

I no longer hunt in the brigalow scrub for wallaby and goanna, but I am with the ancestor spirits as a light you whitefellas call a star. Sometimes I return to soar in the blue skies over the sunburned plains as the great wedge-tailed eagle, and I look down upon the people who now walk the red earth of my ancestors.

My blood flows in the mighty warrior, Tom Duffy, and his daughter, Jessica. Sometimes I visit Tom in the dark places of the night when he sleeps and dreams his nightmares of a whitefella war. I am saddened to see my spirit brother toss and turn screaming out the name of dead cobbers in the cold and lonely night.

There is another generation of the two families who know nothing of me and the Old Ones. The lands are now silent of the laughter of the people who were my people. They are all gone but the whitefella who are young do not see the storm clouds gather when fire will once again fall on them.

Part one

1936

1

Berlin, Germany 1936

The room in the Berlin government building was sombre in the Gothic style popularised by the German leader, Adolf Hitler. But it also reflected a decadent opulence, with its expensive wood panels and plush leather lounges. The mandatory portrait of Hitler had prominent place on the wall, and a clock ticked the seconds away in the silent inner office.

Two men, dressed in their finest Savile Row suits, sat sipping coffee from delicate china cups. Both were in their late middle age but the Australian was the younger of the two. The American was taller and showing the first signs of balding. Despite their different nationalities the two men shared a common link, albeit a distant one, of family.

‘Sir George,’ the American said, ‘I hope you enjoyed the Olympic Games our hosts staged a few weeks ago.’

Sir George Macintosh returned a faint smile. ‘I had little opportunity to attend the Games due to business meetings, but my son and daughter enjoyed them enormously. Our hosts were very generous in looking after them.’

‘I must confess that I, too, missed most of the Games as my time was taken up with various German bankers,’ James Barrington replied. ‘But we are both businessmen and the wheels of enterprise must grind on.’

Sir George Macintosh was about to comment when the door to the office opened and two men entered. Sir George and James Barrington rose respectfully for the President of the Reichsbank, Herr Schacht. His thick hair was greying and he wore pince-nez glasses and a starched white collar. George knew that Schacht controlled the finances of Nazi Germany, despite his well known outbursts against military spending by the Führer and his treatment of the local Jewish population. This was George’s second meeting with the powerful German banker. The younger man with Schacht, his translator, had slicked-back blond hair and wore a pin in the lapel of his suit, proclaiming his membership of the Nazi Party.

‘It is good to meet you again, Herr Schacht,’ George greeted in German, a language he spoke because of his family’s Prussian relatives. ‘May I introduce my American friend, Mr James Barrington.’ Sir George tried not to sound smug but he knew that he had just one-upped his American colleague with his knowledge of the language.

Schacht held out his hand to Barrington and the young translator turned to George. ‘I did not know that you spoke our language,’ he said, and George sensed a certain arrogance in his tone.

‘I have relatives in this country,’ George replied. ‘You may know of them, the von Fellmanns, formerly of Danzig.’ ‘Ahh, General Kurt von Fellmann,’ the translator answered, some of his arrogance disappearing. ‘A fine man, and leading member of our military. You have an esteemed relative, favoured by our Führer.’

‘I didn’t know you spoke German,’ James said, looking at George with open curiosity.
‘Given we have close connections through our two families, old chap, I thought you would have known that about me,’ George said, referring to the fact that a distant cousin, Captain Matthew Duffy, was the father of James Barrington’s grandchildren. The twins, James Jnr and Olivia, now nineteen years of age, had grown up with all that money could buy: luxurious homes, the best education, the finest of friends from other influential families. James Barrington had wisely seen the stock market crash coming and had been able to divest his fortune into enterprises that survived the disastrous economic tsunami that had left millions of people destitute. With the trip to Berlin for the Olympic Games, James Barrington intended to show his beloved grandchildren how the hard work of the German people, under their new leader, had dragged the nation out of a shattered postwar economy. James Barrington Snr was an ardent admirer of the new German leader for the ruthless way he had put Germany back on the world map, and the American was one of the first to invest in the Third Reich. ‘Gentlemen,’ Herr Schacht said, gesturing to the leather couches, ‘please take a seat. We have much to discuss and I must apologise that I do not have a lot of time.’ The translator interpreted for the American’s sake.

‘Sir George,’ Schacht said, taking a seat behind his desk and adjusting his pince-nez, ‘I have been informed that you have a record with the German people for your financial support during the war. I also know that your support would have proved very dangerous to you had it come to light in your own country. Our own great leader once faced your soldiers on the Western Front and was lucky to survive. I feel that our Führer has always been destined to rule our people and that fate spared him that terrible war.’

George had lost a father and brother on the fields of northern France and was aware that his investment in wartime Germany might have helped fill the exploding shells with chemicals. But the deaths of his father and brother had proved fruitful to George, allowing him to take control of the family estates.

‘I am a businessman,’ George replied in German. ‘War is of little concern to me in such matters.’

‘Fortunately the Führer is a peace-loving man who does not wish to ever see war again, and your shares in our chemical industry will be richly rewarded,’ Schacht replied. ‘You invested wisely.’

‘Thank you, Herr Schacht,’ George replied. ‘The German people have a friend in my family company.’ As George glanced across at James Barrington he noticed that the American was shifting impatiently on the lounge. ‘I am sure that my American friend has much to raise with you, and I would hope for a future meeting in private.’

‘Certainly, Sir George,’ Schacht replied, ‘I believe that Donald and Sarah are currently in the company of Mr Barrington’s grandchildren, taking in the hospitality of our country.’

George looked at his host in surprise, although he should have guessed that German officials would have him and his family under observation while they stayed in Berlin. It was to be expected in a nation so strictly controlled by the new regime of the Nazi Party.

‘Well, I will excuse myself and make an appointment with your secretary,’ George said, rising from his chair.

‘Herr Schacht says he will speak with you now, old chap, I hope you have fruitful outcome to your discussions with him. I will see you tonight at dinner in the hotel.’

Barrington nodded and turned to Schacht as George took his hat from the stand by the door and left the room.

*

The café garden overlooking the river was the perfect venue to laze away the afternoon after a day of sightseeing around Berlin. Numerous red flags with white circles enclosing a black swastika fluttered gently on the autumn breeze. The specialty of the house was Bavarian cuisine and the proprietor wore the traditional Bavarian dress of leather knickerbockers and braces. A portly man in leather shorts stood behind the counter while his pretty blonde daughter – her hair in long plaits – served customers at tables located on the green lawn, bordered by tiers of colourful flowers.

James and Olivia Barrington shared the table with Donald Macintosh and his younger sister Sarah. The four of them had met during the Olympic Games and had been inseparable ever since. It had been a fun-filled day, taking in the sights and shopping in the commercial centre of Berlin, which was much quieter now that the Olympic crowds had departed.

James Barrington Jnr was of medium build with a fair complexion and looks that made him attractive to the young women he met. He was also athletic and intelligent. His twin sister Olivia was striking with long red hair, and pretty features spattered with a trace of freckles.

At twenty, Donald Macintosh was the eldest of the four. He was the tallest, too, and had a slim build. He was also dashingly handsome, which had turned many a young Fräulein’s head in the past few weeks.

His sister Sarah was the youngest but already had the promise of her mother’s beauty, as they sat, sipping their tea.

They were not alone in the garden as a few tables away a tall, well-built young man wearing a pair of slacks and an open-neck shirt sat drinking coffee and reading a German newspaper. He paid no attention to the little party, despite their laughter and high spirits. Sarah found herself staring at the young man sitting alone. He was not handsome in the classical sense and he had the look of a man used to hard manual labour, but his face was pleasant, despite his crooked nose and slight scar above his right eye. He had thick wavy brown hair and his skin was tanned, which Sarah thought unusual as summer was disappearing from the northern hemisphere.

‘I say, old man,’ Donald said. ‘I think you and I should head off tonight to have a look at Berlin by neon light.’ His sly smile was quickly interpreted by James, who looked away uneasily. He knew that his Australian friend was hinting that they should seek out the red-light district and this was something his strict puritan religious teachings told him was wrong.

‘I think that would be a grand idea,’ Olivia Barrington cut across with a wicked grin. ‘Can I come with you?’

Donald scowled; he was about to dismiss the idea when the café garden was suddenly filled with a crowd of drunk brown-shirted men spilling in from the street. They slumped in chairs at the tables surrounding the four tourists and shouted orders at the Bavarian proprietor. The Barringtons and Macintoshes had started to notice these brown-shirted men more and more often in the streets once the Games had finished and the visitors had begun to leave.

One of the brownshirts stood up and raised a mug of beer he had brought with him into the café. He rambled on in a loud voice and finished with the salutation, ‘Heil Hitler.’ All of the troopers rose and thrust out their arms in the stiff military salute of the Nazi Party. Only the Barringtons and Macintoshes remained seated, as well as the giant sitting at his table, reading the newspaper.

The drunken man in his early twenties who had initiated the toast turned to the table of four, and shouted something, spittle flying in the air. Sarah and Donald paled and turned to the others to translate the German into English.

‘We must go,’ Donald muttered to his American companions, but James resisted.

‘We are guests in this country and have a right to remain here,’ James said.

Donald looked desperately at his American friend. ‘They are drunk and want to know why we did not stand when they toasted Adolf Hitler.’

‘That is because he is not our leader,’ Olivia offered bluntly. Just as she made her statement the German SA trooper with the beer mug pulled away from his comrades and lurched over to the table, eyes staring with fanatic anger. Donald immediately attempted to pacify the drunken soldier, explaining that they were visitors to the country and did not know all the customs. This only seemed to make the man angrier and suddenly he tipped the contents of his beer mug over Olivia’s head, drenching her. His gesture was met by a chorus of jeers from his companions.

Olivia sat in shock, her face slowly reddening.

James rose from his seat. ‘I say, that was not called for,’ he said with as much bravado he could muster. ‘I shall report this matter to your authorities. My father is a respected guest of your government.’

The German SA party clearly did not understand English and this protest fell on deaf ears.

‘Leave them alone,’ said a deep voice in German, and the large man with the crooked nose strode towards them, a dangerous determination glinting in his grey eyes. He was beside the table in a heartbeat, face to face with the drunken brownshirt.

‘You should go and leave these people in peace,’ the big man said.

‘Or what, Englisher?’ the brownshirt asked with a sneer, obviously detecting that the man had an accent.

‘I’m not an Englishman,’ the man snarled. ‘I’m a bloody Australian – so shove off.’

As he spoke, the Australian was aware that the largest member of the SA party had risen from his table and was walking over. He was the Australian’s size and build, and by his confident expression he clearly thought he would soon frighten off this intruder to their drunken fun. He had a scarred face that spoke of street brawling.

‘Australia is nothing,’ the big German said. ‘You won only one Olympic medal, a bronze in the triple jump.’

The Australian shifted the weight on his feet. ‘We would have won a medal in the heavyweight boxing if I’d been able to register early enough,’ he said, keeping his eyes on the threatening German. There was a hush in the garden now.

‘Ha! You think you could have beaten our champion?’ the scarred man said with a laugh, spitting on the ground to emphasise his disdain. He took a step towards the young Australian.

Three bone-breaking blows caught the German completely by surprise, and he wobbled on his feet before collapsing on the grass with a moan.

The Australian rubbed his knuckles and hoped that he had not broken any bones. ‘If you have any more punching bags for me this afternoon, I would like to keep going,’ he said in his accented German, but the stunned looks of the remaining SA men told him that they would not challenge him.

Sarah could feel her heart pounding. She had never seen such violence before. When she looked up at the Australian he was looking directly at her, and his eyes were now gentle. A smoky-grey colour with flecks of gold.

‘I think you should leave,’ he said. ‘The coppers will arrive soon and I have some explaining to do. You don’t want to get caught up in all that.’

‘Thank you,’ James said, extending his hand in gratitude. ‘We were a little outnumbered. I gather from your accent that you are an Aussie like my friends here.’

‘You don’t have to thank me,’ he replied. ‘I don’t like these bastards and was itching to have a go. And yes, I am an Aussie.’

He smiled grimly as the brownshirts dragged their felled champion away to their table and slapped his face to awaken him.

‘You will pay for this, Englisher,’ one of them shouted from a safe distance.

‘What is your name?’ Sarah asked, rising from her chair. ‘We must thank you in some way.’

‘I’m—’

‘You!’

All attention was focused on two German police officers who had entered the garden and were shouting at the Australian. ‘Stand where you are,’ one of the police officers commanded. ‘You are under arrest.’

The mysterious Australian shrugged and turned back to Sarah. ‘Time you all got out of here before they turn their attention to you.’ He felt the hand of one of the police officers on his shoulder and did not resist.

‘We will come with you to the police station,’ one of the SA men said to the arresting officers. ‘We will need to give a statement concerning the unprovoked attack on our comrade. Heil Hitler.’

The Australian looked over at the Bavarian proprietor who was wringing his hands. The man must have contacted the police, worried there would be a full-on brawl in his restaurant. His pretty daughter gave the Australian a look of frank admiration and he winked at her, causing her to break into a shy smile.

*

On the pavement outside the café James turned to Donald. ‘That was one helluva guy,’ he said. ‘Bad luck for him that those brownshirts are going to the police station with him. I think we should find out where they’re taking him, and try to help.’

‘The Germans are civilised people and with a reliable legal system,’ Donald replied. ‘Besides, I doubt that they would dare cause any harm to a visitor. Not good for tourism if they did.’

‘I’m going to inform Father,’ Sarah said. ‘He will be able to help the young man.’

‘I don’t think that is necessary,’ Donald said. ‘He looks like he can handle himself.’

‘Does it shame you that you were unable to defend us?’ Sarah countered quietly. ‘Is that why you do not wish to mention the incident to Father?’

His sister’s words stung with truth. Donald’s face reddened. He had never felt as helpless as he had in the café garden, facing brute violence beyond the reaches of all his family’s wealth and influence. He had been terrified, but fear was not something his father would tolerate. ‘I think that the matter is over and we should put it behind us,’ he answered feebly and saw the look of disgust on Sarah’s face. They walked in silence back to the hotel.

*

The young Australian experienced fear as he felt the first blow jar his head. His hands were tied behind his back and the rickety chair he was pinioned to almost collapsed. The blow hurt; it had come from the big SA man he had felled in the café garden.

Behind the SA thug stood the two arresting officers, and they both looked nervous and frightened.

‘We rule here, Englisher,’ the SA thug said, stepping back to deliver another punch. Blood dripped from the Australian’s split lip onto his white shirt. ‘You need to learn respect for our Führer.’

The helpless prisoner’s obscene reply brought another smashing blow to his head, making him wish he had kept silent. He was afraid now that this man might beat him half to death before the police officers stopped him.

‘Leave him alone,’ an authoritative voice called into the room. The Australian lifted his head to see a German Luftwaffe officer standing in the doorway. Through swelling eyes he could see the pilot wings on his chest. Behind the German pilot a familiar figure leaned on a cane, a cigar clamped between his teeth.

‘Young David Macintosh,’ Sean Duffy said in an almost tired voice. ‘I wonder why I ever let you come to Germany with me.’

David spat out a mouthful of blood and grinned at the Sydney solicitor. ‘Ah, Uncle Sean, it is good to see you,’ he said. ‘Who’s the flyboy?’

‘I am Hauptmann Fritz Lang,’ the German officer replied

in English. David knew that he was the equivalent rank of an air force flight lieutenant in Australia. ‘Herr Duffy has called on me to free you from custody.’

‘How did you know I was here?’ David asked. He glanced over at the SA man who had been beating him, who stood aside with a surly and resentful look on his face. ‘Captain Lang,’ Sean replied, using the English army equivalent of the German aviator’s rank, ‘has friends in many places and was quick to inform me of your predicament. You have him to thank for the fact that I was able to muster the legal resources to free you so quickly.’

‘I didn’t start this one,’ David said as one of the German police officers stepped forward and untied his hands from behind his back. ‘I was just minding my own business.’

Sean raised his eyebrows, then took the cigar from his mouth and rolled it between his fingers. ‘Captain Lang, could you please thank the police for their hospitality towards Mr Macintosh, and let them know that we will not be reporting this incident to any higher authority.’

As Fritz translated, an expression of gratitude appeared on the officers’ faces. They were men used to enforcing the law, but many police officers resented the growing power the SA had over them. Only the even more feared SS now kept the SA’s power in check.

When David was on his feet he rubbed his wrists and turned to the SA man who had delivered his savage beating. ‘You and I might just meet one dark night down an alley, and if that happens only I will be walking out of it,’ he said in German.

The SA man glared back at David. ‘I will be waiting, Englisher,’ he replied.

‘Calling me an Englishman is enough to get you killed,’

David countered, and followed Sean and Hauptmann Lang out of the dank interrogation room.

*

The three men stepped out onto the footpath. Darkness was already falling. The multitude of red, white and black flags lay against their flag poles. Fritz excused himself and left, shaking hands with both Sean and David first.

‘Uncle Sean,’ David said painfully through his split lips. ‘How in hell did you get hold of a German officer?’

Sean limped beside David and they slowly made their way down the street. ‘It’s a long story that has its roots back in Palestine with your father’s cousin, Captain Matthew Duffy, during the war. After the war, Matthew asked me to track down the family of a German fighter pilot he had sat with as he died. I was able to use this visit to track down the pilot’s widow, and son, and to pass on a letter Matthew had written to them. The pilot’s son is, of course, Fritz.’

‘What happened all those years ago?’ David asked. His own father had been killed in action on the Western Front, which was where Sean had lost both his legs, and his mother had died in the terrible flu epidemic of 1919. David had been raised in New Guinea by his maternal grandmother, Karolina Schumann, on a family copra plantation, but had been schooled in Australia and looked after by the family solicitor, Sean Duffy, who had no wife or children of his own. Sean had become like a father to David.

‘It seems that when Matthew was shot down he stumbled on a Hun pilot who had also been shot down, but was dying from his wounds. Matthew stayed with him, and in the pilot’s dying moments promised to contact his family for him. I have kept that promise for Matthew. Hence, we have at least one good friend in this country, although I do not know Fritz’s attitude to Jews.’

David flinched. His mother was Jewish, which meant he was technically Jewish too. His grandmother had not raised him strictly in accordance with the Jewish faith. But David had been circumcised and he had, out of curiosity, read the Torah. He knew that it did not pay to advertise this aspect of his life in Hitler’s Germany, despite the fact that he had barely stepped inside a synagogue. He was a young man who preferred the pleasures of life to thinking about the restrictions of religion.

The two men walked side by side into the dark, unaware that the simple incident in the café would change the course of both of their lives forever.


Excerpted from War Clouds Gather by Peter Watt. Copyright © 2013 by Peter Watt.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton – Extract

W is for Wasted

PROLOGUE

Two dead men changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I’d never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue. The first was Pete Wolinsky, an unscrupulous private detective I’d met years before through Byrd-Shine Investigations, where I’d served my apprenticeship. I worked for Ben Byrd and Morley Shine for three years, amassing the six thousand hours I needed for my license. The two were old-school private eyes, hard-working, tireless, and inventive. While Ben and Morley did business with Pete on occasion, they didn’t think much of him. He was morally shabby, disorganized, and irresponsible with money. In addition, he was constantly pestering them for work, since his marketing skills were minimal and his reputation too dubious to recommend him without an outside push. Byrd-Shine might subcontract the odd stretch of surveillance to him or assign him a routine records search, but his name never appeared on a client report. This didn’t prevent him from stopping by the office without invitation or dropping their names in casual conversations with attorneys, implying a close professional relationship. Pete was a man who cut corners and he assumed his colleagues did likewise. More problematic was the fact that he’d rationalized his bad behavior for so long it had become standard operating procedure.

Pete Wolinsky was gunned down the night of August 25 on a dark stretch of pavement just off the parking lot at the Santa Teresa Bird Refuge. The site was right across the street from the Caliente Café, a popular hangout for off-duty cops. It might seem odd that no one in the bar was aware that shots were fired, but the volume on the jukebox exceeds 117 dB, roughly the equivalent of a gas-powered chainsaw at a distance of three feet. The rare moments of quiet are masked by the high-pitched rattle of ice cubes in dueling blenders where margaritas are whipped up at a rate of one every four and a half minutes.

Pete’s body might not have been discovered until daylight if it hadn’t been for an inebriated bar patron who stepped into the shadows to take a leak. I heard about Pete’s death on the morning news while I was eating my Cheerios. The TV set was on in the living room behind me, more for the company than the content. I caught his name and turned to catch a night shot of the crime scene blocked off by yellow tape. By the time the news crew had arrived, his body had been loaded into the ambulance in preparation for transport to the coroner’s office, so there was really nothing to see. In the harsh glare of artificial light, a somber female reporter recited the bare facts. Pete’s immediate family must have been notified by then or she wouldn’t have mentioned him by name. Pete’s death was a surprise, but I can’t say it was a shock. He’d often complained of sleeping poorly and had taken to wandering the streets at all hours. According to the reporter, his wallet had been stolen along with his watch, a knock-off Rolex with a fauxplatinum band. I guess robbers these days can’t distinguish the genuine article from the fake, which meant that Pete’s death wound up being more about impulse or cheap thrills than profit. He was a man with a propensity for risk, and it was only a matter of time before Lady Luck caught up with him and pushed him off the cliff.

The story about the second dead man is more complex and takes longer to articulate, especially since the facts emerged slowly over a matter of weeks. The coroner’s office called me on a Friday afternoon, asking if I could ID a John Doe who had my name and phone number on a slip of paper in his pocket. How could I resist? Every good mystery takes place on three planes—what really happened; what appears to have happened; and how the sleuth, amateur or professional (yours truly in this case) figures out which is which. I suppose I could put everything in perspective if I explained how it all turned out and then doubled back to that phone call, but it’s better if you experience it just as I did, one strange step at a time.

This was October 7, 1988, and it looked like things were as bad as they were going to get. On the national front, congressional spending was a whopping $1,064.14 billion and the federal debt was topping out at $2,601.3 billion. Unemployment hovered at 5.5 percent and the price of a first-class postage stamp had jumped from twenty-two cents to twenty-five. I tend to disregard issues over which I have no control. Like it or not, the politicians don’t consult me about economic policies, budget cuts, or the gross national product, whatever that is. I might voice an opinion (if I had one), but as nearly as I can tell, nobody pays the slightest attention, so what’s the point? My only hope is to be the master of my own small universe, which is centered in a Southern California town ninety-six miles north of Los Angeles.

My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, female, age thirty-eight. I rent office space in a two-room bungalow with a kitchenette and a bathroom on a narrow side street in the heart of Santa Teresa, population 85,810, minus the two dead guys. Since I’m the sole proprietor and lone employee, I operate on a modest scale, supporting myself by doing missing-persons searches, background checks, witness location, and the occasional service of process. From time to time I’m hired to establish paper trails in legal, financial, or property disputes. On a more personal note, let me say that I believe in law and order, loyalty, and patriotism—old-fashioned values that might seem woefully out of date. I also believe in earning an honest living so I can pay my taxes, cover my monthly bills, and tuck any surplus into my retirement account.

When I reached the coroner’s office, I was ushered into a bay with the curtain discreetly pulled around the ceiling track. Though curious, I wasn’t apprehensive. I’d done a quick survey and could account for the people I knew and loved. There were those who orbited my world in a wider gyre, but I couldn’t think of one whose death would have had a significant impact.

The dead man was stretched out on a gurney with a sheet pulled up to his chin, so there was nothing of an intimate nature in evidence. He was not someone I recognized. His skin tones were gray, underlined with a pale gold that suggested liver issues of a profound and possibly fatal nature. His features had been softened and flattened in death, angles worn as smooth as stone over which water has poured for thousands of years. The human spirit does more than animate the face; it lends character and definition. Here, there was none.

The decedent (to use the official term) appeared to be in his early seventies, white, and overweight in the manner of those who forgo their nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day. Judging by the bulbous nose and broken veins across his weather-darkened face, he’d enjoyed alcohol in sufficient quantities to pickle the average adult. Sometimes the dead seem to sleep. This man did not. I studied him at length, and there was not even the faintest suggestion that he was breathing. Whatever spell had been cast over him, the effects were permanent.

His body had been discovered that morning in a sleeping bag on the beach where he’d hollowed out a place for himself in the sand. His campsite was just below a bank of ice plant that flourished between the bike path and the beach itself, a spot not immediately visible to passersby. During the day, the area is popular with the homeless. At night, the fortunate among them secure bed space at one of the local shelters. The unlucky ones are left to flop where they can.

The beachside park closes thirty minutes after sunset and doesn’t open again until 6:00 A.M. According to Municipal Code 15.16.085, it’s unlawful to sleep in any public park, public street, public parking lot, or any public beach, which doesn’t leave much in the way of openair habitats available free of charge. The ordinance is designed to discourage transients from sacking out on the doorsteps of area businesses, thus forcing them to set up makeshift quarters under bridges, freeway overpasses, bushes, and other places of concealment. Sometimes the police roust them out and sometimes they look the other way. Much of this depends on whether the local citizens are feeling righteous about the poor or indifferent, as is usually the case.

Preliminary examination suggested the man had been dead for close to eighteen hours by the time the coroner’s investigator got in touch with me. Aaron Blumberg had been hired by the Santa Teresa County Coroner’s Office in the mid-’70s, just about the time I left the Santa Teresa Police Department and went to work for Ben Byrd and Morley Shine. The year I opened my office, Aaron was recruited by the Kern County Sheriff’s Department, from which he’d recently retired. Like many law-enforcement junkies, he was ill suited for a life of leisure, and he’d returned to the local coroner’s office some six months before.

He was a man in his sixties with a softly receding hairline. The top of his head was covered with gray fluff, like the first feathering out of a baby bird. His ears were prominent, his cheekbones pronounced, and his smile created long creases that bracketed his mouth like a marionette’s. We stood in silence for a moment and then he checked my reaction. “You know him?”

“I don’t. I take it he was homeless.”

Aaron shrugged. “That’s my guess. A group of them have been congregating in that grassy patch across the street from the Santa Teresa Inn. Before that, they camped in the park adjacent to the municipal swimming pool.”

“Who called it in?”

He took off his glasses and polished one lens with the end of his tie. “Fellow named Cross. Seven o’clock this morning, he was out on the beach with a metal detector sweeping for coins. He had his eye on the sleeping bag, thinking it had been dumped. Something about it bothered him, so he went out to the street and flagged down the first black-and-white that came by.”

“Was anyone else around?”

“The usual posse of bums, but by the time the paramedics arrived, they’d all drifted away.” He checked his lenses for smears and then resettled the glasses on his nose, tucking a wire stem carefully behind each ear.

“Any signs of foul play?”

“Nothing obvious. Dr. Palchek’s on her way out. She has two autopsies on the books, which puts this guy at the end of the line, pending her assessment. Since Medicare went into effect, she doesn’t do a post on every body brought in.”

“What do you think he died of? He looks jaundiced.”

“Not to be flip about it, but what do any of these guys die of? It’s a hard life. We have one just like this every couple of months. Guy goes to sleep and he never wakes up. Could be hepatitis C, anemia, heart attack, alcohol poisoning. If we can ID the guy, I’ll canvas the local clinics in hopes he’s seen a doc sometime in the last twenty days.”

“No ID at all?”

Aaron shook his head. “Note with your name and phone number and that was it. I inked his fingers and faxed the ten-print card to the DOJ in Sacramento. Weekend’s coming up and those requests are going to sit there until somebody gets around to ’em. Might be the middle of next week.”

“Meanwhile, what?”

“I’ll check his description against missing-persons reports and see if there’s a match. With the homeless, their families sometimes don’t care enough to fill out the paperwork. Of course, it works the other way as well. Street people don’t always want to be located by their socalled loved ones.”

“Anything else? Moles, tattoos?”

He lifted the sheet to expose the man’s left leg, which was shorter than his right. The knee cap was misshapen, raised in a thick knot like a burl. The flesh along the fibula was laced with red ropes of scar tissue. At some point in the past, he’d suffered a devastating injury.

“What happens if you never find out who he is?” “We’ll hold him for a time and then we’ll bury him.” “What about his effects?”

“Clothes on his back, sleeping bag, and that’s it. If he had anything else, it’s gone now.”

“Ripped off?”

“That’s possible. In my experience, the beach bums are protective of one another, which is not to say they might not confiscate the stuff he had no further use for.”

“What about the note he carried? Can I see it?”

He reached for the clipboard at the bottom of the gurney and freed the clear plastic evidence bag in which the slip had been placed. There was a picket fence of torn paper along the top, the leaf apparently ripped from a spiral-bound pad. The note was written in ballpoint pen, the letters uniform and clean: MILLHONE INVESTIGATIONS with the address and phone. It was the sort of printing I’d emulated in the fourth grade, inspired by a teacher who used a mechanical pencil and the same neat hand.

“That’s my office,” I remarked. “He must have looked me up in the yellow pages. My home number’s unlisted. Wonder what a homeless guy wanted with a PI?”

“I guess they’ve got problems just like everyone else.”

“Maybe he thought I’d come cheap since I’m a girl.”

“How would he know that? Millhone Investigations is gender neutral.”

“Good point,” I said.

“At any rate, I’m sorry for the wasted trip, but I thought it was worth a shot.”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Do you mind if I ask around? Somebody must know who he was. If the guy needed help, he might have confided in his cronies.”

“Do anything you want as long as you keep us in the loop. Maybe you’ll find out who he is before we do.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice?”

I sat for a moment in the parking lot, jotting notes on a succession of index cards that I keep in my bag. There was a time when I trusted more to memory. I was raised by a maiden aunt who believed in rote learning: multiplication tables, state capitals, the kings and queens of England and their reigns, religions of the world, and the periodic table of elements, which she taught me by the judicious arrangement of cookies decorated with blue, pink, yellow, and green frosting, numbers piped onto each in a contrasting color. Oddly enough, I’d forgotten that particular exercise in child abuse until the previous April, when I walked into a bakery and saw a display of Easter cookies. In a flash, like a series of photographs, I saw hydrogen, atomic number 1; helium, atomic number 2; lithium, atomic number 3, working my way as far as neon, atomic number 10, before my mind went blank. I am still able to recite long portions of Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman” at the slightest provocation. In my experience, this is not a useful skill.

When I was young, such pointless mental gymnastics were the perfect training for a game played at various birthday parties I attended. We were briefly shown a tray of objects, and a prize was given to the little girl who remembered the most. I was a whiz at this. In fourth grade, I won a pocket comb, a ChapStick, a small bag of marbles, a box of crayons, a nicely wrapped bar of motel soap, and a pair of plastic barrettes . . . really not worth the effort in my opinion. Eventually, mothers became annoyed and hinted broadly that I should share the bounty or cede the floor. Having a keen sense of justice even at that age, I refused, which pared down the number of invitations to zero. I’ve learned in the years since that the simple expedient of written notes relieves the beleaguered child in me from burdening my brain. I’m still resistant to sharing bounty I’ve acquired by fair means.

Pulling out of the parking lot, I thought about the oddities of life, that something as insignificant as a slip of paper could have a ripple effect. For reasons unknown, the dead man had made a note of my name and phone number, and because of that, my path had touched his. While it was too late for conversation, I wasn’t quite prepared to shrug and move on. Maybe he’d meant to make the call the day he died and his mortality caught up with him before he could act. Maybe he’d thought about calling and changed his mind. I wasn’t looking for answers, but it couldn’t hurt to inquire. I didn’t anticipate long-term consequences. I pictured myself asking a few questions, making little or no progress, and then letting the matter drop. Sometimes the import of a minor moment makes all the difference.

1

On my way back into town, I stopped at the car wash. For years I owned VW Bugs, which were cheap to run and possessed a certain quirky charm. A full tank of gas would get you almost anywhere in the state, and if you suffered a fender bender, you could replace a bumper for pennies on the dollar. This more than made up for the minimal horsepower and the smirks from other drivers. I’m a jeans-and-boots kind of gal myself, so the lack of glamour suited me just fine.

My first VW, a beige 1968 sedan, ended up in a ditch after a fellow in a truck ran me off the road. This was out by the Salton Sea, where I was conducting a missing-persons search. The guy was intent on killing me but managed to inflict only modest damage to my person while the car was a total loss. My second VW sedan was a 1974, pale blue, with only one minor ding in the left rear fender. That car went to an early grave, shoved into a big hole after a slow-speed chase on an isolated stretch of road up in San Luis Obispo County. I’ve heard that most traffic fatalities occur within a two-mile radius of home, but my experience would suggest otherwise. I don’t mean to imply that the life of a private eye is all that dangerous. The big threat is my being bored half to death doing title searches at the county courthouse.

My current vehicle is a 1970 Ford Mustang, a two-door coupe with manual transmission, a front spoiler, and wide track tires. This car had served me well, but the color was an eye-popping Grabber Blue, much too conspicuous for someone in my line of work. Occasionally I’m hired to run surveillance on an unsuspecting spouse, and the persistent sight of a Boss 429 in close range will blow a tail every time. I’d owned the Mustang for a year, and while I was no longer smitten with it, I was reconciled to Mustang ownership until the next kick-ass miscreant had a go at me. I figured I was just about due.

In the meantime, I tried to be conscientious about maintenance, with frequent servicing at the local repair shop and a weekly hosing down. At the car wash for $9.99, the “deluxe package” includes a thorough interior vacuuming, a foam wash, a rinse, a hot wax, and a blow dry with 60-horsepower fans. Ticket in hand, I watched the attendant ease the Mustang into a line of cars awaiting the conveyor track, which would ferry it from view. I went inside the station and paid the cashier, declining the offer of a vanilla-scented doohickey to hang on my rearview mirror. I moved over to the waiting area’s long spectator window and peered to my right, watching as the attendant steered the Mustang forward until it was caught on the flat mechanical tramway. A white hatchback of unknown manufacture followed right behind.

Four panels of trailing cloth bands wagged soap and water back and forth across the top surfaces of the car while whirling cloth skirts pirouetted along the sides. A separate cylinder of soft brushes caught the front grille, merrily scrubbing and polishing. There was something hypnotic about the methodical lather and rinse processes that enveloped the Mustang in a blanket of sudsy water, soap, and wax. That I considered the process enthralling is a fair gauge of how easily entertained I was at the time.

I was so engrossed that I scarcely noticed the guy standing at the window next to me until he spoke.

“That your Mustang?”

“Yep,” I said and looked over at him. I placed him in his early forties, dark hair, good jawline, slender frame. Not so good-looking as to annoy or intimidate. He wore boots, faded jeans, and a blue denim shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His smile revealed a row of white teeth with one crooked bicuspid.

“Are you a fan?” I asked.

“Oh, god yes. My older brother had a 429 when he was in high school. Man, you floored that thing and it tore the blacktop off the road. Is that a 1969?”

“Close, a 1970. The intake ports are the size of sewer pipes.” “They’d have to be. What’s the airflow rate?”

“Eight,” I said, like I knew what I was talking about. I walked the length of the station’s window, keeping pace with my car as it inched down the line. “Is that your hatchback?”

“I’m afraid so,” he said. “I liked the car when I bought it, but it’s one thing after another. I’ve taken it back to the dealer three times and they claim there’s nothing they can do.”

Both cars disappeared from view, and as we moved toward the exit, he stepped ahead of me and pushed open the glass door, holding it for me as I passed in front of him. One car jockey slid into the front seat of the Mustang while another took the wheel of his car, which I could see now was a Nissan. Both cars were driven out onto the tarmac, where two sets of workers swarmed forward with terry-cloth towels, wiping away stray traces of water and squirting shiner on the sides of the tires. A minute later, one of the workers raised a towel, looking over at us.

As I headed for my car, the Nissan owner said, “You ever decide to sell, post a notice on the board in there.”

I turned and walked backward for a few steps. “I’ve actually been thinking about dumping it.”

He laughed, glancing over as a second worker nodded to indicate that his car was ready.

I said, “I’m serious. It’s the wrong car for me.” “How so?”

“I bought it on a whim and I’ve regretted it ever since. I have all the service records and the tires are brand new. And no, it’s not stolen. I own it outright.”

“How much?”

“I paid five grand and I’d be willing to let it go for that.”

By then he’d caught up with me and we’d stopped to finish the conversation. “You mean it?”

“Let’s just say I’m open to the idea.” I reached into one of the outer flaps of my shoulder bag and took out a business card. I scribbled my home phone number on the back and offered it to him.

He glanced at the information. “Well, okay. This is good. I don’t have the money now, but I might one day soon.”

“I’d have to line up a replacement. I need wheels or I’m out of business.”

“Why don’t you think about it and I will, too. A friend of mine owes me money and he swears he’ll pay.”

“You have a name?”

“Drew Unser. Actually, it’s Andrew, but Drew’s easier.” “I’m Kinsey.”

“I know.” He held the card up. “It says so right here.”

“Have a good one,” I said. I continued to my car and then waved as I got in. The last I saw of him, he was heading left out of the lot while I took a right.

I returned to the office and spent a satisfying half hour at my SmithCorona typing a report. The job I’d just wrapped up was a work-related disability claim through California Fidelity Insurance, where I’d been accorded office space for many years. Since CFI and I had parted on bad terms, I appreciated the opportunity to ingratiate myself, a reversal made possible because the executive who fired me had himself

been fired. This was a gloat-worthy turn of events and the news had lifted my spirits for days. The recent job had been gratifying for more reasons than the hefty paycheck. The responsibility of an employer for the health and safety of employees is governed by state law, and the follow-up to a workplace accident usually falls to the insurance company. Not all private insurance companies write worker-comp policies, which requires a property and casualty license. In this case, the injured man was married to a CFI executive, which was why I was brought in. Being skeptical by nature, I suspected the fellow was malingering, coached by a spouse well acquainted with the means and methods for milking the situation. As it turned out, I was able to document the man’s incapacitation, and his employer made sure he was afforded the benefits he was entitled to. Cynicism aside, it makes me happy when two parties, whose relationship could turn adversarial, resolve their differences to the satisfaction of both.

When I finished typing the report, I made two copies on my newly acquired secondhand copy machine, kept one for my files, and put the original and one copy in an envelope that I addressed to CFI, which I dropped into the nearest mailbox as I headed for home. I was caught up on work, and for the moment I had no new clients clamoring for my services, so I’d awarded myself some time off. I wasn’t thinking in terms of a bona fide vacation. I’m too tight with a buck to spend money on a trip and there wasn’t any place else I longed to be in any event. As a rule, if I don’t work, I don’t eat, but my checking account was full, I had three months’ worth of expenses covered, and I was looking forward to a stretch of time in which to do as I pleased.

Once I’d reached Cabana, I followed the wide boulevard that ran parallel to the Pacific Ocean. We’d had fog and drizzle the day before and the skies were sufficiently overcast to generate a fine mist. As it happened, rainfall total for the month would later register a touch over 0.00 inches, but for all I knew, the sprinkle heralded an epic tropical storm that would soak us properly. The lingering damp suggested a change of seasons, Santa Teresa’s version of summer giving way to fall.

A mile farther on, at the intersection of Milagro and Cabana, I turned into one of the public lots and nosed into a parking spot that faced the Santa Teresa Inn. I figured as long as I was out and about, I’d try to make contact with those who might be acquainted with the man in the morgue. This was a neighborhood I knew well, the halfway point in my usual three-mile morning jog. It was now late afternoon and the beach path was populated by a cross-flow of walkers and cyclists, tourists peddling foot-powered surreys, and kids maneuvering their skateboards as though surfing the pipeline.

The homeless I saw in the early morning hours were often still huddled under a deadweight of blankets, sheltered by shopping carts piled high with their belongings. Even for nomads, the urge toward ownership is apparently irresistible. Regardless of social status, we derive comfort from our stuff; the familiar warp and weft of our lives. My pillow, my blanket, my small plot of earth. It’s not that the homeless are any less invested in their possessions. The dimensions of what they own are simply more compact and more easily carted from place to place.

The sun was making its slow descent and the air was getting chillier by the minute. I set my sights on a trio lounging on sleeping bags under a cluster of palms. As I watched, they passed a cigarette from hand to hand and took turns sipping from a soda can that had probably been emptied and refilled with a high-test substitute. In addition to the censure against snoozing in public, consumption of alcohol is also prohibited by municipal code. Clearly, the homeless can’t do much of anything without risking arrest.

It didn’t take much sleuthing to locate the spot where the John Doe had been found. Just beyond a shelf of ice plant, someone had constructed a tower of carefully balanced rocks, six by my count, each stone settled on the one below it in an artful arrangement that appeared both stable and precarious. I knew the sculpture hadn’t been there the day before because I’d have spotted it. At the base, a motley collection of glass jars had been placed, each containing a bouquet of wildflowers or blooms confiscated from the yards of homeowners in the area. While jogging, the only way I have to keep my mind occupied is by a free-form internal commentary about external events.

I focused on the three transients, two of whom were regarding me without expression. They didn’t seem overtly threatening, but I’m an undersize female—five foot six, one hundred eighteen pounds—and while capable of defending myself, I’d been taught to keep my distance from any assemblage of idlers. There’s something edgy and unpredictable about those who loiter with no clear purpose, especially when alcohol is folded into the mix. I’m a person of order and regulation, discipline and routine. That’s what makes me feel safe. The anarchy of the disenfranchised is worrisome. In this case, my wariness was superseded by my quest for information.

I approached the threesome, taking a mental photograph of each in turn. A white kid somewhere in his twenties sat with his back against a palm. He sported dreadlocks. The sparse shadow of facial hair suggested he’d shaved maybe once in the past two weeks. I could see a sharp angle of bare chest visible in the V of his short-sleeve shirt. The sight of his bare arms made me cross my own for warmth. His shorts seemed light for the season. The only items of substance he wore were heavy-duty wool socks and a pair of hiking boots. His legs were cute, but that was about it.

The second fellow was African American, with a full head of springy gray hair, frosted with white. His beard and mustache were carefully trimmed, and he wore glasses with metal rims. He was probably in his seventies, decked out in a pale blue dress shirt under a herringbone sport coat with frayed cuffs. The third fellow sat cross-legged in the grass with his back to me, as round-shouldered and squat as a statue of Buddha. He wore an imitation leather jacket with a rip under one arm and a black knit watch cap pulled down to his brows.

I said, “Hi, guys. I don’t mean to intrude, but did any of you know the dead man who was found out there this morning in his sleeping bag?”

As I gestured toward the beach, it occurred to me that the detail about the sleeping bag was superfluous. How many dead men in any guise had been discovered at the beach in the past twenty-four hours?

The fellow with his back to me rotated to get a good look at me and I realized my mistake. It was a woman, who said, “What business is it of yours?”

“Sorry. I should have introduced myself. Kinsey Millhone. What’s your name?”

She turned away, murmuring a four-letter word, which was audible, owing to my keen appreciation of bad language. I’m occasionally rebuked for my salty tongue, but who gives a shit?

The white kid spoke up in an effort to present a friendlier point of view. Without quite meeting my gaze, he said, “That’s Pearl. This here’s Dandy and I’m Felix.”

“Nice meeting you,” I said.

In a gesture that I hoped would convey both goodwill and trust, I held out my hand. There was an awkward moment and then Felix got the message. He shook hands with me, smiling sheepishly, his gaze fixed on the grass. I could see grungy metal braces on his teeth. Was the welfare system in the business of correcting malocclusions these days? That was hard to believe. Maybe he’d been fitted as a teen and had run away from home before his dentist finished his work. His teeth did look straight, but I questioned the wisdom of sporting orthodontia for life.

Dandy, the older gentleman, spoke up, his tone mild. “Don’t mind Pearl. It’s almost supper time and she’s hypoglycemic. Brings out a side of her we’d just as soon not see. What’s your interest in our friend?”

“He had my name and phone number in his pocket. The coroner’s office asked me to ID the guy, but I’d never seen him before. Were you aware that he’d passed away?”

Pearl snorted. “We look like fools? Of course he’s dead. Why else would the coroner send a van? He was laying out there still as stone

an hour and a half after sunup. Down here, come daybreak, you better be on the move or the cops will bust you for loitering.” Her lower teeth were dark and widely spaced as though every other one had been yanked out.

“Can you tell me his name?”

She measured me, sizing up my capacity to pay. “How much is it worth to you?”

Dandy said, “Come on now, Pearl. Why don’t you answer the lady? She asked all polite and look how you’re doing her.”

“Would you butt out? I can handle this myself if it’s all the same to you.”

“Fellow passed on. She wants to know who he is. No reason to be rude.”

“I asked why it’s any of her concern? She ain’t answer me, so why should I answer her?”

I said, “There’s nothing complicated going on. The coroner’s office wants to contact his next of kin so his family can decide what to do with his remains. I’d hate to see him buried in a pauper’s grave.”

“What difference does it make as long as it don’t cost us anything?” Her hostility was getting on my nerves, but I didn’t think this was the time to introduce the notion of sensitivity training when she was already “sharing” her feelings. She went on. “What’s it to you? You a social worker? Is that it? You work for St. Terry’s or that clinic at the university?”

I was doing an admirable job of keeping my temper in check. Nothing sets me off quicker than belligerence, warranted or otherwise. “I’m a private investigator. Your friend must have found my name in the yellow pages. I wondered if he’d had a problem he needed help with.”

“We all need help,” Pearl said. She held out a hand to Dandy. “Gimme up.”

He stood and pulled her to her feet. I watched while she dusted imaginary blades of grass from the back of her pants.

“Nice making your acquaintance,” Dandy said.

The white kid took his cue from his companions and stubbed out the last half inch of the cigarette. He stood and took one last sip from the soda can before he crushed it underfoot. He might have left it in the grass, but since I was standing right there watching him, he tucked it in his backpack like a good Boy Scout. He gathered his sleeping bag, bundled it carelessly, and secured it to his backpack with a length of rope.

Clearly, our chummy conversation was coming to an end. I said, “Anybody know where he was from?”

No response.

“Can’t you even give me a hint?” The white kid said, “Terrence.” Pearl hissed, trying to shut him up.

Meanwhile, I was drawing a blank. “Which is where?” Felix was staring off to one side. “You ast his first name.”

“Got it. Terrence. I appreciate the information. What about his last name?”

“Hey! Enough. We don’t have to tell you nothing,” Pearl said.

I was about to choke the woman to death with my bare hands when Dandy spoke up.

“You have a business card? I’m not saying we’ll get back to you, but just in case.”

“Of course.”

I reached into my shoulder bag and took one out, which I handed to him. “I jog most weekday mornings, so you can always look for me on the bike path. I’m usually here by six fifteen.”

He examined the card. “What kind of name’s Kinsey?” “My mother’s maiden name.”

He looked up. “You happen to have any spare smokes on you?”

“I don’t,” I said, patting my jacket as though to verify the fact. I was about to add that I didn’t have any spare change either, but it seemed insulting as he hadn’t inquired about my financial state. Pearl had lost interest. She grabbed her shopping cart and began hauling it toward the bike path, wheels digging into the soft grass.

When it was clear the three were moving on, I said, “I appreciate your help. If you think of anything useful, you can let me know.”

Dandy paused. “You know that minimart a block down?” “Sure.”

“You pick up a couple packs of cigarettes and it might put Miss Pearly White in a mood to chat.”

“She can bite my big fat ass,” Pearl said.

“Thanks a bunch. Really fun,” I sang as they ambled away.


Excerpted from W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton. Copyright © 2013 by Sue Grafton. First published 2013 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York. This edition published 2013 by Mantle, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world: http://www.panmacmillan.com
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Vicious Circle by Wilbur Smith – Extract

Vicious Circle

He came fully awake before he moved or opened his eyes. He lay for a second assessing his situation, checking for danger, his warrior instincts taking control. Then he smelled her delicate perfume and heard her breathing as softly and regularly as the dying surf running up a distant beach. All was well, and he smiled and opened his eyes. Gently he rolled his head so as not to awaken her.

The early sun had found a chink in the curtains and through it had laid a sliver of beaten gold across the ceiling. It cast an intriguing light on her face and form. She lay on her back. Her face was in repose and it was lovely. She had kicked off the sheet and she was naked. The golden curls covering her mons Veneris were a shade darker than the splendid tangle of the locks that had fallen over her face. Now, so far along in her pregnancy, her bosoms were swollen to almost twice their normal size. He let his gaze drift down to her belly. The skin was stretched tight and glossy by the precious cargo it contained. As he stared at it he saw the small movement as the child stirred within her womb and his breathing was stifled for an instant by the weight and strength of his love for them both, his woman and his child.

‘Stop staring at my big fat belly and give me a kiss,’ she said without opening her eyes. He chuckled and leaned over her. She reached up with both arms around his neck and as her lips parted he smelled her sweet breath. After a while she whispered into his open mouth, ‘Can’t you keep this monster of yours on a leash?’ She reached down with one hand to his groin. ‘Even he must know that at the moment there is no room at the inn.’

‘Colour him brainless,’ he said. ‘But you have never been any great help in keeping him under control. Unhand me, you brazen wench!’

‘Just wait a few weeks and I will show you the true meaning of the word brazen, Hector Cross,’ she warned him. ‘Now ring down to the kitchen for coffee.’

While they waited for the coffee to be delivered he left the bed and drew back the curtains, letting the sunlight burst into the room.

‘The swans are in the Mill Pool,’ he called to her. She struggled upright using both hands to cradle her belly. He came back to her immediately and helped her to her feet. She picked up her blue satin bed robe from the chair and slipped into it as they crossed to the picture window.

‘I feel so ungainly!’ she complained as she tied the belt. He stood behind her and with both hands reached around and gently cradled her belly.

‘Somebody is kicking again,’ Hector whispered into her ear and then took the lobe between his teeth and nibbled it lightly.

‘Don’t tell me. I feel like a ruddy football.’ She reached back over her shoulder and lightly slapped his cheek. ‘Don’t do that. You know it gives me goose bumps all over.’

They looked down at the swans in silence. The cob and the pen were a dazzling white in the early sunlight, but the three cygnets were a grubby grey. The cob dipped his long sinuous neck into the green waters and reached down to feed on the aquatic plants at the bottom of the pool.

‘Beautiful, aren’t they?’ he asked at last.

‘They are just one of the many reasons I love England,’ Hazel whispered. ‘What a perfect scene. We should have a good artist paint it.’

The river spilled into the pool over a stone weir and the waters were limpid. They could look down ten feet and see the shadows of the big trout lying on the gravel bottom. Willows lined the banks and brushed the surface with their trailing fingers. The meadow beyond was a luscious green and the sheep grazing on it were as white as the swans.

‘It’s the perfect place to raise our little girl. You know that’s why I bought it.’ She sighed contentedly.

‘I know that. You’ve told me often enough. What I don’t know is what makes you so certain this is a girl.’ He caressed her stomach. ‘Don’t you really want to know for certain the gender, instead of just guessing?’

‘I am not guessing. I know,’ she said smugly and covered his large brown hands with her slim white ones.

‘We could ask Alan when we get up to London this morning,’ he suggested. Alan Donnovan was her gynaecologist.

‘You are an awful nag. But don’t you dare ask Alan and spoil my fun. Now put on your dressing gown. You don’t want to terrify poor Mary when she comes with the coffee,’ she said fondly.

Moments later there was a discreet knock on the door. ‘Come!’ said Hector and the chambermaid carried in the coffee tray.

‘Good morning to all! How are you and the baby, Mrs Cross?’ she said in her cheerful Irish brogue, placing the tray on the table.

‘All is well, Mary, but do I spy biscuits on that tray?’ Hazel demanded.

‘Only three small ones.’ ‘Take them away, please.’

‘Two for Sir and just one for you. Plain oatmeal. No sugar,’ Mary wheedled.

‘Be a darling, Mary. Humour me. Take them away, please.’

‘Poor little mite must be starving,’ Mary grumbled but she picked up the biscuit dish and marched from the room. Hazel sat on the sofa and poured a single mug of coffee so black and strong that its aroma filled the room.

‘God! It smells so good,’ she said wistfully as she handed it to him. Then she poured warm unsweetened skimmed milk into her own porcelain cup.

‘Ugh!’ she exclaimed with disgust as she tasted it, but she drank it down like medicine. ‘So how are you going to keep yourself busy while I am with Alan? You know he will take at least a couple of hours. He’s very thorough.’

‘I have to take my shotguns to Paul Roberts for storage, and then I have a suit fitting with my tailor.’

‘You aren’t going to drive my beautiful Ferrari around in the London morning traffic, are you? You’d probably give it a ding, same as you did to the Rolls.’

‘Will you never forget that?’ He spread his hands in mock outrage. ‘The silly woman jumped the lights and drove into me.’

‘You drive like a maniac, Cross, and you know it.’

‘Okay, I’ll take a cab to do my errands,’ he promised. ‘I don’t want to look like a football player in that poncey machine of yours. Anyway, my new Range Rover is waiting for me. Stratstone’s phoned me yesterday to let me know that it’s ready. If you are a good girl, which we all know you are, I’ll take you to lunch in it.’

‘Talking about lunch, where are we going?’ she demanded.

‘I don’t know why I bother. We can get lettuce leaves anywhere, but I reserved our usual table at Alfred’s Club.’

‘Now I know you really love me!’ ‘You had better believe it, skinny.’

‘Compliments! Compliments!’ She gave him a beatific smile.

*

Hazel’s red Ferrari coupé was parked under the portico that sheltered the front door. It sparkled like an enormous ruby in the sunlight. Robert, her chauffeur, had polished it lovingly.It was his favourite amongst all the many cars parked in the underground garage. Hector made an arm for her down the front steps and helped her into the driver’s seat. When she had wriggled her belly in behind the wheel he fussed over her, getting the adjustment of the seat just right and the safety belt comfortably looped under her bump.

‘Are you sure you don’t want me to drive?’ he asked solicitously. ‘Never,’ she replied. ‘Not after all the horrid things you said about her.’ She patted the steering wheel. ‘Get in and let’s go.’

It was three-quarters of a mile from the manor house to the public highway, but the estate road was paved all the way. Where it looped into the approach to the bridge over the River Test there was a fine view back to the house. Hazel pulled over for a moment. She could seldom resist the temptation to gloat over what she humbly referred to as ‘simply the finest Georgian building in existence’.

Brandon Hall had been built in 1752 by Sir William Chambers for the Earl of Brandon. He was the same architect who had built Somerset House on The Strand. Brandon Hall had been shamefully neglected and rundown when Hazel acquired it. When Hector thought about how much money she had lavished upon the house to bring it to its present state of perfection he could barely suppress a shudder. However, he could never deny the beauty of its elegant and perfectly balanced lines. Last year Hazel had been placed seventh on Forbes magazine’s list of the richest women in the world. She could afford it.

Still and all, what woman in her right mind needs sixteen bedrooms, for God’s sake? But the hell with expense, the fishing in the river is truly great. Worth every dollar, he consoled himself silently. ‘Come on, baby,’ he said aloud. ‘You can admire it on your way back, but right now you are going to be late for your appointment with Alan.’

‘I do so enjoy a challenge,’ she said sweetly, and pulled away leaving black rubber burns on the tarmac surface behind her and a pale blue cloud of smoke hanging in the air.

When she reversed effortlessly into the underground parking bay beneath the Harley Street building, from which Alan Donnovan had removed his own vehicle to make room for hers, she glanced at her wristwatch.

‘One hour forty-eight minutes! I do believe that’s my personal best time to date. Fifteen minutes ahead of my appointment. Would you like to retract that gibe about me being late, smarty-pants?’

‘One day you are going to hit a radar trap and they are going to pull your driver’s licence, my beloved.’

‘Mine is a US licence. These sweet Brit cops can’t touch it.’

Hector escorted her up to Alan’s suite. As soon as he heard her voice, Alan came out of his consulting room to welcome her; a rare show of respect he generally accorded only to royalty. He paused in the doorway to admire her. Hazel’s loose-fitting maternity gown in soft Sea Island cotton had been especially designed for her. Her eyes sparkled and her skin glowed. Alan bowed over her hand and touched it to his lips.

‘If all my patients were as patently healthy as you I would be out of a job,’ he murmured.

‘How long are you going to keep her, Alan?’ Hector shook hands with him.

‘I can readily understand why you are so eager to have her back.’

Such levity was seldom Alan’s style, but Hector chuckled and insisted, ‘When?’

‘I want to run some checks and possibly consult my associates. Give me two and a half hours, will you please, Hector?’ He took Hazel’s arm and led her into his inner chambers. Hector watched the door close. He stared after her. He was overwhelmed by a sudden premonition of impending loss such as he had seldom experienced before. He wanted to go after her, and bring her back and hold her close to his heart for ever. It took a long moment for him to recover himself.

‘Don’t be a bloody idiot. Take a hold of yourself, Cross.’ He turned away and went out into the passage and headed towards the lifts.

*

Alan Donnovan’s receptionist watched him go impassively.She was a pretty Afro-British girl with big sparkling dark eyes and a good figure under her white uniform. Her name was Victoria Vusamazulu and she was twenty-seven years old. She waited until she heard the elevator stop at the end of the passage and the doors open and close behind Hector as he stepped into it, then she brought her mobile phone out of her coat pocket. She had punched his phone number into her list of contacts under the name ‘Him!’ The phone rang once only and she heard the click on the line.

‘Hello. Is that you, Aleutian?’ she asked.

‘I told you not to name names, bitch.’ She shivered when he called her that. He was so masterful. He was unlike any man she had known before. Instinctively her hand went to her left breast. It was bruised and still tender where he had bitten her last night. She rubbed it and the nipple hardened.

‘I’m sorry. I forgot.’ Her voice was husky.

‘Then don’t forget to delete this call when we finish. Now tell me! Has she come?’

‘Yes, she is here. But her husband has gone out. He told Doctor that he would return at one thirty.’

‘Good!’ he said, and the line went dead. The girl took the phone from her ear and stared at it. She found that she was breathing hard. She thought about him; how hard and thick he was when he was inside her. She looked down at herself and felt the warmth oozing through the crotch of her panties onto her thighs.

‘Hot as a dirty little bitch in heat,’ she whispered. That was what he had called her last night. Doctor would not need her for a while, he was busy with the Cross woman. She left the reception room and went down the passage to the toilet. She locked herself in one of the cubicles. Then she pulled her skirts up around her waist and dropped her panties around her ankles. She sat on the toilet seat and spread her knees. She put her hand down there. She wanted to make it last, but as soon as she touched her hot switch she could not hold back. It was so quick and so intense that it left her gasping and shaking.

*

Two hours later Hector returned and ensconced himself in a leather armchair in the waiting room facing Alan’s door. He picked up a copy of the Financial Times from the side tableand turned to the FTSE reports. He did not even glance up as the intercom rang on the receptionist’s desk. She spoke softly into the receiver and then hung up.

‘Mr Cross,’ she called across to him. ‘Mr Donnovan would like to have a few words with you. Please would you go through to his room?’ Hector dropped the newspaper and jumped up from the armchair. Again he felt the quick stab of anxiety. He had learned over the years to trust his instincts. What dire news did Alan have for him? He hurried across the waiting room and knocked on the inner door. Alan’s muffled voice bid him enter. The consulting room was panelled in oak and the shelves were lined with sets of leatherbound medical volumes. Alan sat behind a vast antique desk and Hazel faced him. She stood up as Hector entered and came to meet him, pushing her big belly ahead of her. She was smiling radiantly and that allayed Hector’s premonitions of disaster. He embraced her. ‘Everything all right?’ he demanded, and looked at Alan over Hazel’s shining blonde head.

‘Tickety-boo! Calm seas and fair winds!’ Alan assured him. ‘Take a seat, both of you.’ They sat side by side and stared at him with full attention. He removed his spectacles and polished them with a piece of chamois leather.

‘Okay, shoot!’ Hector encouraged him.

‘The baby is doing just fine, but Hazel isn’t so young any more.’ ‘None of us are,’ Hector agreed. ‘But ever so kind of you to mention it, Alan.’

‘The baby is just about ready to make its move, but perhaps Hazel might need a little bit of a hand.’

‘Caesarean?’ she asked with alarm.

‘Dear me, no!’ Alan assured her. ‘Nothing so extreme. What I have in mind is an induction of labour.’

‘Explain please, Alan,’ Hector insisted.

‘Hazel is in her fortieth week of gestation. She will be good and ready by the end of this coming week. The two of you are stuck out in the wilds of darkest Hampshire. How long does it take you to get up to London?’

‘Two and a half hours is good time,’ Hector replied. ‘Some drivers with heavy right feet do it in under two.’

Hazel pulled a face at him.

‘I want you to move up to your town house in Belgravia immediately.’ Alan had been a dinner guest there on more than one occasion. ‘I am going to book Hazel into a private ward in the Portland Maternity Hospital in Great Portland Street for Thursday this week. It’s one of the leading establishments in the country. If she goes into spontaneous labour before Thursday you will only be fifteen minutes away from it. If nothing happens by Friday I will give Hazel a little injection and pop goes the weasel, so to speak.’

Hector turned to her. ‘How do you feel about that, my darling?’ ‘That suits me just fine. The sooner the quicker, as far as I am concerned. Everything is ready for us in the London house. I just need to pick up a few things, like the book I am reading, and we can move back into town tomorrow.’

‘That’s it, then,’ said Alan briskly and stood up behind his desk. ‘See you both on Friday at the latest.’

On their way through the waiting room Hazel stopped in front of the receptionist’s desk and rummaged around in her handbag. She brought out a gift-wrapped bottle of Chanel perfume and placed it in front of the receptionist.

‘Just a little thank you, Victoria. You have been so sweet.’

‘Oh, you are too kind, Mrs Cross. But you really shouldn’t have!’ As they rode down in the lift Hazel asked him, ‘Did you get your Range Rover from Stratstone?’

‘It’s parked just across the street; I will take you to lunch in her and bring you back afterwards to pick up your old can of rust.’ She punched his shoulder and led the way out of the building.

He took her arm crossing Harley Street and the taxi drivers coming from both directions, seeing how pretty and pregnant she was, braked sharply to a standstill. One of them leaned out of his window, grinning. He signalled at her to cross in front of his taxi and called out to her, ‘Best of luck, luv! Bet it’s a boy!’

Hazel waved back. ‘I’ll let you know.’

None of them noticed the motorcycle parked in a loading zone a hundred yards up the street behind them. Both the driver and his pillion passenger wore gloves and helmets with darkened perspex visors which hid their faces. As Hazel and Hector reached the parked Rover the motorcyclist jumped on the kick starter and the engine of the powerful Japanese machine under him burbled to life. The pillion passenger lifted his booted feet onto the footrests, ready to go. Hector opened the passenger door for Hazel and handed her up into the seat. Then he moved briskly around to the driver’s side. He jumped in, started the engine and pulled out into the traffic stream. The motorcyclist waited until there were five vehicles separating them and then he followed. He maintained the separation discreetly. They went around Marble Arch and down to Berkeley Square. When the Rover drew up in front of No. 2 Davies Street the motorcyclist rode on past and turned left at the next road junction. He circled the block and stopped when he had a view of the front of Alfred’s Club. He saw at once that the doorman had parked the Rover a little further up the street.

*

Mario, the restaurant manager, was waiting at the entrance to greet them, beaming with pleasure. ‘Welcome, Mr and Mrs Cross, but it’s been far too long.’‘Nonsense, Mario,’ Hector contradicted him. ‘We were here ten days ago with Lord Renwick.’

‘That’s far too long ago, sir,’ Mario protested and led them to their favourite table.

The room went silent as they passed down it. All eyes followed them. Everybody knew who they were. Even in advanced pregnancy Hazel looked magnificent. The gossamer skirt billowed around her like a rose-coloured cloud, and the handbag she carried was one of those crocodile-skin creations which made every other woman in the room consider suicide.

Mario seated her and murmured, ‘May I presume that it will be the grapefruit salad for madame, followed by the grilled St Jacques? And for you, Mr Cross, the steak tartare, followed by the lobster with Chardonnay sauce?’

‘As usual, Mario,’ Hector agreed seriously. ‘To drink, Mrs Cross will have a small bottle of Perrier water with a bucket of ice. Please fetch a bottle of the Vosne-Romanée Aux Malconsorts 1993 from my personal wine keep for me.’

‘I have already taken the liberty of doing so, Mr Cross. Fifteen minutes ago I checked that the temperature of the bottle is sixteen degrees centigrade. Shall I have the sommelier open it?’

‘Thank you, Mario. I know I can always rely on you.’ ‘We try our best to please, sir.’

As the manager left them Hazel leaned across and placed her hand on Hector’s forearm. ‘I do so love your little rituals, Mr Cross. Somehow I find them very comforting.’ She smiled. ‘Cayla also used to find them amusing. Do you remember how we laughed when she imitated you?’

‘Like mother, like daughter.’ Hector smiled at her.

There had been a period when Hazel had not been able to say the name ‘Cayla’ out loud. That had been from the time of her daughter’s brutal slaying and the mutilation of her corpse by her killers until she had discovered that she was pregnant with Hector’s child. That had been a catharsis and she had wept in his arms and blurted out the name. ‘Cayla! It’s going to be another little Cayla,’ she’d sobbed. After that the wounds had healed swiftly until she could talk about Cayla easily and often.

She wanted to talk now and when the sommelier had brought her Perrier water she sipped it and asked, ‘Do you suppose Catherine Cayla Cross will have blonde hair and blue eyes like her big sister did?’ She had already chosen the new infant’s name as a tribute to her dead first child.

‘He will probably have black stubble on his chin like his father,’ Hector teased her. He also had loved the murdered girl. Cayla had been the magnet that had first brought them together against all the odds. Hector had been head of security at Bannock Oil when Hazel had inherited control of the company from her late husband.

From the start Hazel had detested Hector, despite the fact that he had been appointed by her own beloved deceased husband. She knew Hector’s record and reputation intimately and was repelled by the hard and sometimes brutal tactics he used to defend the company assets and personnel from any threat. He was a soldier and he fought like one. He showed no mercy. He flew in the face of all Hazel’s gentler female instincts. At their very first meeting she warned him that she was looking for the slightest excuse to fire him.

Then Hazel’s cosseted and privileged existence was plunged into chaos. The daughter who was the cornerstone of her solitary existence was kidnapped by African pirates. Hazel exerted all her vast fortune and her influence in high places to try to rescue her. No one could help her, not even the President of the United States of America with all his power. They could not even discover where her Cayla was being held. At her wits’ end, she had cast aside her pride and gone back to the cruel, brutal and merciless soldier she so hated and despised: Hector Cross.

Hector had tracked down the kidnappers to their den in the fastness of the African deserts where Cayla was being held. She was being brutally tortured by her captors. Hector had gone in with his men and brought Cayla back to safety. In the process he had demonstrated to Hazel that he was a thoroughly decent person of high principles; somebody that she could trust without reserve. She had given in to the attraction she had so carefully suppressed at their first meeting and once she had got closer to him she discovered that under his armour-plated exterior he could be warm and gentle and loving.

She looked at him now and she reached across the table to take his hand. ‘With you beside me and baby Catherine Cayla inside me, everything is perfect again.’

‘It will be like this for ever,’ he assured her and another tiny frisson of dread ran up his spine as he realized he was tempting the fates. Though he smiled tenderly at her, he was brooding on how the rescue of Cayla had not been the end of the affair either. The fanatics who had seized her had not given up. Their hired thugs had come back and murdered Cayla and sent her decapitated head to Hazel. Hector and Hazel had been forced to re-enter the fray and finally eradicate the monster who had ruined their lives.

Perhaps this time it is really over, he thought as he watched Hazel’s face. She went on talking about Cayla.

‘Do you remember how you taught her to fish?’

‘She was a natural. With just a little coaching she could cast a salmon fly at least a hundred and fifty feet in most wind conditions and she instinctively knew how to read the waters.’

‘What about the big salmon the two of you landed in Norway?’ ‘It was a monster. I was hanging on to her belt, and it almost pulled us both into the river.’ He chuckled.

‘I’ll never forget the day she announced that she was not going to be an art dealer, the career I had planned for her, but that she had decided to become a veterinary surgeon. I nearly had a blue fit!’ ‘That was very naughty of her.’ Hector pronounced judgement with a stern expression.

‘Naughty? You were the naughty one. You backed her up all the way. The two of you talked me right into it.’

‘Tut. Tut. She was such a bad influence on me,’ Hector admitted. ‘She loved you. You know that. She really loved you like her own father.’

‘That’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.’ ‘You are a good man, Hector Cross.’ Tears welled up in her eyes.

‘Catherine Cayla is going to love you also. All three of your girls love you.’ She gasped suddenly and clutched her stomach. ‘Oh my God! She gave me a mule kick. She obviously agrees with what I just said.’ They both burst out laughing so that the guests at the other tables looked around at them, smiling in sympathy. However, they might just as well have been alone in the room. They were totally engrossed by each other.

They had so much to remember and discuss. Both of them had filled their lives with strivings and endeavour. They had both experienced soaring triumphs and shattering disasters, but Hazel’s career had been by far the more spectacular. She had started out with little more than guts and determination. At the age of nineteen she had won her first Grand Slam tournament on the professional tennis tour. At twenty-one she had married the oil tycoon Henry Bannock and borne him a daughter. Henry had died when Hazel was almost thirty years old and left control of the Bannock Oil conglomerate to her.

The world of big business is an exclusive domain. Intruders and upstarts are not welcome there. Nobody wanted to bet on a sometime tennis playercum society glamourgirl turned oil baroness. However none of them had taken into account Hazel’s innate business acumen, nor the years of her tutelage under Henry Bannock, which were worth a hundred MBA degrees. Like the crowds at the Roman circus, her detractors and critics waited in grisly anticipation for her to be devoured by the lions. Then, to the chagrin of all, she brought in the Zara No. 8.

Hector remembered vividly how Forbes magazine had blazoned on its front cover the image of Hazel in her white tennis kit, holding a racquet in her right hand. The headline above the photograph read ‘Hazel Bannock aces the opposition. Richest oil strike in thirty years.’

The story described how in the bleak hinterland of the godforsaken and impoverished little emirate named Abu Zara lay an oil concession once owned by the Shell Oil Company. In the period directly after World War II, Shell had pumped the reservoir dry and abandoned the exhausted concession. Since then it had lain forgotten.

Then Hazel had picked it up for a few paltry millions of dollars

and the pundits nudged each other and smirked. Ignoring the protests of her advisors, she spent many millions more in sinking a rotary cone drill into a tiny subterranean anomaly at the northern extremity of the field; an anomaly which with the more primitive exploration techniques of thirty years previously had been reckoned to be an ancillary of the main reservoir. The geologists of that time had agreed that any oil contained in this area had long ago drained into the main reservoir and been pumped to the surface, leaving the entire field dry and worthless.

However, when Hazel’s drilling team pierced the impervious salt dome of the diapir, a vast subterranean chamber in which the principal oil deposits had been trapped, the gas overpressure roared up through the drill hole with such force that it ejected almost eight kilometres of steel drill string like toothpaste from the tube, and the hole blew out. High-grade crude oil spurted hundreds of feet into the air. At last it became evident that the old Zara 1 to 7 fields which Shell had abandoned were only a fraction of the total reserves.

Recalling all this seemed to draw them closer to each other over the lunch table, fascinated by the reminiscences they had repeated many times before but in which they still discovered things totally new and intriguing. At one point Hector shook his head in admiration. ‘My God, woman! Have you never been daunted by anything or anybody in your life? You have done it all on your own, and you have done it the hard way.’

She slanted her startling eyes at him and smiled. ‘Don’t you see, life was never meant to be easy; if it was, we would place no real value on it. Now that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about you.’

‘You already know everything there is to know about me. I have told you fifty times over.’

‘Okay, let’s make it fifty-one. Tell me about the day on which you took your lion. I want all the details again. Take care. I will know if you leave anything out.’

‘Very well, here I go. I was born in Kenya, but my dad and mum were both Brits, so I am a genuine British citizen.’ He paused.

‘Their names were Bob and Sheila . . .’ she prompted him. ‘Their names were Bob and Sheila Cross. My father had almost twenty-five thousand hectares of prime grazing land abutting the Maasai tribal reservation. On this he was running over two thousand head of prize Brahman cattle. So my boyhood companions were mostly Maasai boys of my own age.’

‘And your little brother, of course,’ said Hazel.

‘Yes, my little brother, Teddy. He wanted to be a rancher, like our father. He would do anything to please the old man. On the other hand, I wanted to be a warrior like my uncle who had died in the war fighting Rommel at El Alamein in the North African desert. The day my father sent me to the Duke of York School for boys in Nairobi was the most devastating experience of my life to that date.’

‘You hated it, didn’t you?’

‘I hated the rules and the restraint. I was accustomed to running wild and free,’ he said.

‘You were a rebel.’

‘My father said I was a rebel and a bloody savage. But he said it with a smile. Nevertheless, I was third from top of my class and captain of the first fifteen rugby team in my final year at the Duke. That was good enough for me. That was when I was sixteen years of age.’

‘The year of your lion!’ She leaned forward across the table and took his hand, her eyes shining with anticipation. ‘I love this part. The first part is a little tame. Not enough blood and guts, you know.’ ‘My Maasai companions were coming of age. So I went to the village and spoke to the chief. I told him I wanted to become a Morani with them. A warrior.’ She nodded.

‘The chief listened to everything I asked for. Then he said that I was not a true Maasai because I had not been circumcised. He asked if I wanted to be cut by the witch doctor. I thought about it and then declined the offer.’

‘And a good job too,’ Hazel said. ‘I prefer your whistle the way that God originally designed it.’

‘What a kind thing to say. But to return to the story of my life; I discussed this rejection with my companions, and they were almost as distressed by it as I was. We argued about it for days and in the end they agreed that if I could not become a true Morani, at least I could take my lion, then I would be more than halfway a Morani.’

‘But there was just one little problem, wasn’t there?’ she reminded him.

‘The problem was that the Kenyan government, in which the Maasai tribe was poorly represented, had banned the lion ceremony of manhood. Lions were now strictly protected throughout the entire territory.’

‘But then came some divine intervention,’ she said, and he grinned at her.

‘Straight from heaven!’ he agreed. ‘In the Masai Mara National Park, which adjoined the tribal lands, an old lion was driven out of his pride by a younger and stronger rival. Without his lionesses to drive the hunt he was forced to leave the protection of the park, and to seek easier prey than zebra and wildebeest. Firstly, he started on the Maasai cattle herds, which were the tribal store of wealth. This was bad enough, but then he killed a young woman as she came down to the waterhole to draw water for her family.

‘Much to the joy and feverish excitement of my friends the Maasai, the Government Game Department was forced to issue a licence to eradicate the old rogue. Because of the links that I had forged with the tribe over the years, and because I was big and strong for my age and the elders knew just how hard I had trained with the fighting sticks and the war spear, they invited me to join the hunt with the other young Morani candidates.’

Hector paused as the sommelier added half an inch of red wine to his glass and then topped up the Perrier water in Hazel’s. Hector murmured his thanks and then wet his lips with the Burgundy before he continued.

‘The lion had not killed and eaten for almost a week and we all waited in an agony of suspense for his hunger to force him to kill again. Then on the sixth evening, as the light was fading, two little naked herdboys came racing back to the village with the glad tidings. As they were bringing the herd down to the waterhole the lion had waylaid them. He had been lying in ambush in the thick grass on the downwind side of the path, and he charged out at the herd from a range of only ten paces or so. Before the cattle had time to scatter he had leapt onto the back of a five-year-old cow that was heavy with calf. He sank his fangs into the base of her neck while he reached around with one great paw and sank his long yellow claws into her snout. Then he heaved back with all the massive strength of his forearm against the lock he had on the cow’s neck. The neck vertebrae parted with a crack, killing her instantly. She went down nose first as her forelegs collapsed and she somersaulted in a cloud of dust. The lion jumped clear before he was crushed by her fifteen hundred pounds of dead weight.’

‘I still can’t believe he was strong enough to kill a huge animal so easily,’ Hazel said in awed tones.

‘Not only that, but he was able to lift her in his jaws and carry her into the grass, holding her so high that only her hooves dragged in the dust.’

‘Go on!’ she urged him. ‘Don’t mind my silly questions. Get on with the story!’

‘Well, it was already dark, so we had to wait for the dawn. None of us slept much that night. We sat around the fires and the older men told us gleefully what to expect when we walked up to the old lion on his kill. There was not much laughter from any of us, and our chatter was subdued. It was still dark when we dressed in our black goatskin cloaks against the chill of dawn. We were naked under the cloaks. We armed ourselves with our rawhide shields and our short stabbing spears, which we had sharpened so that we were able to shave the hair off our forearms with the bright edge. There were thirty-two of us, a band of brothers. We went singing in the dawn to meet our lion.’

‘You’d think that would have warned the lion and driven him away,’ said Hazel.

‘It would have taken much more than that to drive a lion off his kill,’ Hector told her. ‘We sang a challenge to him. We called him to battle. And of course, we bolstered our own courage. We sang and we danced to warm our blood. We stabbed at the air with our spears to loosen the muscles of our arms. The young unmarried girls followed us at a distance to see who would stand to the lion and who would break and run when he came in all his noble might to answer our challenge.’

Hazel had heard the story a dozen times already, but she watched his face so raptly that it might have been the very first telling of it.

‘The sun came up and showed its upper rim above the horizon directly in front of us, bright as molten metal from the furnace. It shone into our faces to dazzle us. However, we knew where we would find our lion. We saw the tops of the grass move where there was no wind, and then we heard him growl. It was a terrible sound that struck into our hearts and into our bowels. Our legs turned to water and each dancing pace was a conscious effort as we went forward to meet him.

‘Then the lion stood up from where he had lain flat behind the carcass of the heifer. His mane was fully erect. It formed a majestic corona around his head. It burned with a golden light, for he was vividly back-lit by the sun. It seemed to double his bulk. He roared. It was a gale of sound that swept over us and our own voices faltered for a moment. Then we rallied and shouted back at him, calling on him to pick his man and come against him. The flanks of our line started to curl in around him, surrounding him and leaving him no escape route. He swung his head slowly from side to side, surveying us as we closed in.’

‘Oh God!’ she breathed. ‘I know already what is going to happen, but I can barely stand the tension.’

‘Then his head stopped swinging and his tail began to lash from side to side, the black tuft on the end of it whipping his own flanks. I was in the middle of the line, the place of honour, and I was close enough to see his eyes clearly. They were yellow, bright burning yellow, and they were fastened upon me.’

‘Why you, Hector? Why you, my darling?’ She shook his hand urgently, her expression filled with dread as though it were happening before her very eyes.

‘God alone knows,’ he shrugged. ‘Perhaps because I was in the middle of the line, but most likely because my pale body was shining out from amongst the darker bodies that flanked me.’

‘Go on!’ she begged. ‘Tell me again how it ended.’

‘The lion fell into a crouch as he gathered himself for the charge. His tail stopped lashing from side to side. He held it straight out behind him, rigid and slightly upwardly curled. Then it flicked twice and he came straight at me. He came snaking low along the ground, so fast that he was only a tawny streak of sunlight, ethereal but deadly.

‘And in those microseconds I learned the true meaning of terror. Everything slowed down. The air around me seemed to grow dense and heavy, difficult to breathe. It was like being trapped in a thick mud swamp. Every movement required a deliberate effort. I knew I was shouting, but the sound seemed to come faintly from far away. I braced myself behind the rawhide shield and raised the point of my spear. The sunlight caught the burnished metal and sent a bright splinter of light into my eyes. The form of the lion swelled up before me until it filled all my vision. I aimed the point of my spear at the centre of his chest. His chest was pumping as he deafened me with his killing fury, mighty gusts of sound like those of a steam locomotive running at full throttle.

‘I braced myself. Then at the final instant before his weight hurtled into my shield I leaned into him and caught him on the point of my spear. I let his own weight and speed drive the point so deeply into his chest that the spearhead and half of the shaft were swallowed up. He was dying as he bore me backwards to the earth and crouched on top of me raking the shield with his claws, bellowing his rage and agony into my upturned face.’

Hazel shuddered at the picture he had created for her. ‘It’s too horrible! I have goose flesh running down both my arms. But don’t stop. Go on, Hector. Tell me the end of it.’

‘Then suddenly the lion’s whole body stiffened and he arched his back. With his jaws open wide he vomited a copious gout of his heart blood over me, drenching my head and my entire upper body before my companions could drag him off me and stab him a hundred times over with their own blades.’

‘It terrifies me to think about how differently it could have ended,’ she said. ‘How we might never have met each other and shared all that we have now. Now, tell me what your father said when you returned to the ranch that day,’ she demanded of him.

‘I rode back to the big old thatched-roof ranch house, but it was afternoon before I reached it. My family were seated at the lunch table on the front stoep. I tethered my horse at the hitching rail and climbed the steps slowly. My euphoria evaporated as I saw my family’s faces. I realized then that I had not bothered to wash. The lion’s blood had dried thickly in my hair and on my skin. My face was a mask of dried blood. It had rubbed off on my clothing, and was black on my hands and under my fingernails.

‘My little brother Teddy broke the horrified silence. He giggled like a schoolgirl. Teddy was a giggler. At that my mother burst into tears and hid her face in her hands; she knew what my father would have to say.

‘He rose to his feet, all six foot two of him, and his face was dark and twisted with rage. He choked incoherently on it. Then slowly his expression cleared and he said ominously, “You have been with those black savages, your bosom chums, have you not, boy?”

‘“Yes, sir,” I admitted. My father was always “sir”; never “Dad”, and especially never “Daddy”.

‘“Yes, sir,” I repeated, and suddenly his expression changed. ‘“You have been for your lion, just like a bloody Maasai Morani.

That’s it. Isn’t it?”

‘“Yes, sir,” I admitted, and my mother burst into fresh gales of tears. My father went on staring at me with that odd expression for a long while and I stood to attention in front of him. Then he spoke again.

‘“Did you stand or did you break?”

‘“I stood, sir.” Again his long silence, before he spoke again. “Go to your rondavel and get yourself cleaned up. Then I will see you in my study.” This summons was usually the equivalent of a death sentence or a least a hundred lashes.’

‘Then what happened?’ Hazel demanded, although she knew full well.

‘When I knocked at the door of his study a short while later, I was wearing my school blazer and tie with a clean white shirt. My shoes were polished and my damp hair was slicked down.

‘“Come in!” he bellowed. I marched in and stood in front of his desk.

‘“You are a bloody savage,” he said firmly. “An utterly uncivilized savage. I see only one hope for you.”

‘“Yes, sir.” Inwardly I quailed; I thought I knew what was coming. ‘“Sit down, Hector.” He indicated the armchair facing his desk.

That rocked me. I had never sat in that chair, and I could not remember when last he called me Hector, and not boy.

‘When I was seated bolt upright facing him he went on, “You will never make a rancher, Hector, will you?”

‘“I doubt it, sir.”

‘“The ranch should have been yours, as the eldest son. But now I am going to leave it to Teddy.”

‘“I wish Teddy joy of it, sir,” I said, and he actually smiled, but fleetingly.

‘“Of course he will not have it too long,” the old man said, and the smile was gone again. “In a very few years we will all be booted out of here by the former owners from whom we stole it in the first place. Africa always wins in the end.” I was silent. There was no reply I could think of.

‘“But you, young Hector. What shall we do with you?” Again I had no answer, and I kept my mouth shut. I had long ago learned that was the safest option. He went on speaking. “You will always be a savage at heart, Hector. But that is no serious drawback. Most of our revered British heroes, from Clive to Kitchener, from Wellington to Churchill, were savages. There would never have been a British Empire without them. But I want you to be a well-educated and cultivated English savage, so I am sending you to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst to learn to kick the living shit out of all the lesser peoples of this earth.”’

Hazel burst out laughing and clapped her hands. ‘What a remarkable man. He must have been completely outrageous.’

‘He was full of bluster, but it was all an act. He wanted to be known as a hard man who never backed down, and who always called a spade a bloody shovel. But under the veneer he was a kind and decent man. I think he loved me, and I certainly worshipped him.’

‘I wish I had known him,’ Hazel said wistfully.

‘Probably much better you didn’t,’ Hector assured her. Then he turned as Mario coughed politely at his elbow.

‘Will there be anything further you need, Mr Cross?’ Hector looked up at the restaurant manager as if he had never seen him before. Then he blinked and looked around the room that was now empty except for a couple of bored waiters standing by the doors to the kitchen.

‘Good Lord, what is the time?’

‘It is a few minutes past four o’clock, sir.’ ‘Why on earth did you not warn us?’

‘You and Mrs Cross were enjoying yourselves so much I couldn’t bring myself to it, sir.’ Hector left a fifty-pound note on the table for him and took Hazel out to where the doorman had the Rover at the front entrance of the club with the engine running. When they reached Harley Street, Hector drove down the ramp into the underground garage of Alan’s building and helped Hazel into her Ferrari.

‘Now, my queen honey bee, remember that I am behind you and it isn’t a race. Look in your rear-view mirror occasionally.’

‘Do stop fussing, darling.’

‘I won’t stop until you give me a kiss.’ ‘Come and get it, greedy boy.’

While Hector waited for her to leave the garage ahead of him he drew on a pair of soft kid leather driving gloves, then he followed the Ferrari up the ramp. The motorcyclist following them kept well back, using other vehicles as stalking horses as they weaved their way through the streets of London and at last joined the M3 motorway. There was no need for him to press too closely and run the risk of alerting the quarry. He knew exactly where they were headed. Besides that, he had been warned that the man was a hectic dude; definitely not somebody to mess around with. He would only make his move much later after they had passed through Winchester. At intervals he spoke briefly into the hands-free microphone of the phone which was fitted into his crash helmet, reporting the progress of the two vehicles ahead of him. Each time the receiving station clicked the transmit button to acknowledge the transmission.

Two hundred yards ahead of the motorcyclist Hector drove with one finger tapping time to the music on the steering wheel. He was tuned to Magic radio, his preferred station. Don McLean was singing ‘American Pie’, and Hector sang along. He knew all the intricate lyrics by heart. However, he never relaxed his vigilance. Every few seconds his eyes darted up to the rear-view mirror, scanning the following traffic. The vehicles in his line of vision were constantly changing but each one was saved in his memory. ‘Always watch your tail’ was one of his aphorisms. Just before Basingstoke the traffic thinned out and Hazel opened up the Ferrari. Hector had to push the Rover up to nearly 120 mph to keep her in sight.

He called her on his hands-free mobile: ‘Take it easy, lover. Remember you have a very important passenger riding with you.’ She blew a loud raspberry back at him, but dropped the Ferrari back to just a little over the speed limit.

‘What a good girl you can be when you really try,’ he said and eased his speed to match hers.

*

‘Approaching Junction 9. Red vehicle is still leading. She has taken the slip-road for Winchester. Black vehicle is tracking her.’ Behind them the motorcyclist spoke into his concealedmicrophone and the receiving station clicked acknowledgement again.

Still in loose formation, Hazel led them into the bypass around the ancient cathedral city of Winchester, fifteen centuries old and once the capital and stronghold of King Alfred the Great. At intervals Hector could make out the cathedral spire rising above the other buildings of the city. They left it behind. Ahead of Hector the red Ferrari slowed for the turn-off signposted Smallbridge on Test and Brandon Hall. As he followed Hazel into the turning Hector noticed two workmen on the side of the road. Dressed in yellow high-visibility coats with British Roads printed across their backs, they were unloading the components of a steel barrier from the back of a parked truck. Hector paid them little attention, but he looked ahead to where the Ferrari was dwindling in the distance. Apart from the red machine the narrow road was deserted as far ahead as Hector could see.

Less than a minute later the biker and his passenger followed them into the road to Smallbridge. As he passed the workmen the biker raised a gloved hand to them and they were galvanized into action by his signal. Quickly they dragged the sections of the steel barrier into the road and set it up, blocking both lanes. Then they raised a large yellow and black road sign which read, Road Closed. No Entry. Diversion.

A large black arrow directed traffic to continue up the main road, effectively isolating both Hazel and Hector and the motorcycle that followed them. The pseudo workmen jumped back into their truck and drove away. They had been paid and their job was done.

So close to home, Hector drove relaxed. Once he glanced up at the rear-view mirror and he noticed only a motorbike that was two hundred yards further back. He switched his attention to the road ahead. There was rolling green countryside on both sides of it, interrupted by copses of darker trees. Some of these pressed up close against the road as it twisted and undulated over the gentle hillsides. The road had shrunk to two narrow lanes. Even Hazel was obliged to reduce her speed.

‘Both vehicles entering demarcated zone,’ said the motorcyclist crisply, and this time he was answered by the other station.

‘Roger that, Station One. I have you and the chase both visible.’ Suddenly between the motorcycle and Hector’s Rover another vehicle turned out of a muddy farm track onto the tarmac road. It had stayed concealed behind a clump of trees until Hector had driven past. It was a large left-hand drive Mercedes Benz van with French registration plates. Apart from those, it showed no other markings.

The motorcyclist accelerated until he was positioned twenty feet off the van’s rear bumper.

Ahead of them Hector’s Rover disappeared over another rise. When the Mercedes and the motorbike reached the same crest they saw that the road ahead of them descended into a shallow valley where it crossed a raised embankment with boggy ground on either side. Hector was just driving out onto the embankment while in the distance the red Ferrari was already climbing the low hill on the far side of the valley. The driver of the Mercedes van smiled with satisfaction. The trap was perfectly set. He floored his accelerator, roared down the slope and out onto the embankment. As he came up swiftly behind Hector he blew a piercing blast on his horn. Hector glanced up at his rear-view mirror.

‘Now where did this cheeky bastard spring from?’ He was startled. The van had not been there when he had last checked the mirror.

Nevertheless he judged that, despite the fact that the embankment was so narrow, there was just enough room for the two vehicles side by side. Instinctively Hector slowed and eased off onto the verge to let the bigger vehicle pass. It barged by him with only inches separating them.

Hector was level with the van of the cab for only a fraction of a second. As he had expected from the French number plates, it was left-hand drive. The van driver looked directly down at him. Hector was startled by the bizarre fact that he was wearing a rubber Halloween mask depicting the grinning face of President Richard Nixon. His left arm rested on the sill of the van’s open side window. It was a muscular arm, with a small design in red tattooed on the very dark skin.

Close behind the van, its front wheel almost touching the rear bumper, a black Honda Crossrunner motorcycle with two riders crouched on the double seat flew past Hector. Both riders wore crash helmets with full-face dark visors and complete black leather motorcycle gear.

On the far side of the boggy hollow Hazel’s Ferrari was just topping the crest of the hill. Hector realized that they had been neatly cut off from each other by the alien van and bike.

‘Hazel!’ Hector shouted her name as all his feral instincts kicked in at full force. ‘They are after Hazel!’ He grabbed his mobile phone and punched in her number.

A disembodied voice answered the call: ‘The person you have called is presently unavailable. Please try again later.’

‘Shit!’ he swore. The reception was always intermittent along this stretch of the road. He dropped the phone.

The van and the bike were already pulling rapidly away from him. He rammed the accelerator to the floor and roared in pursuit of them. As he stared ahead he saw Hazel’s Ferrari disappear over the crest of the rise, so he switched his full attention to the vehicles he was pursuing. The engine of his Range Rover was new and freshly tuned and he gained rapidly on them. Instinctively he thrust his right hand into the front of his jacket to where the Beretta 9mm automatic was usually concealed in its armpit holster. Of course, it wasn’t there. Carrying handguns is strictly prohibited in Jolly Old England.

‘Bloody politicians!’ he snarled. It was a fleeting thought and his full attention never deviated from the menace on the road ahead. He decided he would ram the lumbering Mercedes van first. It was the easier target. If he could get up alongside he would use the old police tactic of swinging into it at the level of its rear wheels. That would spin it off the road. The bike would be more elusive, but once the van was taken out of the way he would be able to concentrate on running it down.

He was closing rapidly on the van. The Honda swerved out of his way and pulled up level with the cab of the van. Now Hector was right on its tail. The van driver began to weave from side to side, frustrating Hector’s attempts to force his way past.

‘Shit!’ Hector swore as the rear doors of the van swung open above him. ‘What now?’

He looked up through the open doors into the cargo hold. There was a massive builder’s pallet packed with large concrete building blocks wrapped in transparent plastic sheeting looming over him. The pallet was mounted on rollers. There must have been another thug in the hold pushing it. It trundled back towards him. Hector saw what was about to happen, and he hit his brakes hard. Even then he was only just quick enough.

The pallet toppled out of the open rear doors of the van. It crashed into the roadway directly in front of Hector’s Rover. The plastic wrapper burst on impact and tons of the huge blocks cascaded across the narrow road, piling up in a barrier that sealed it from verge to verge; an obstacle that would challenge even his powerful machine. He just managed to stop with the car’s nose almost touching the tumbled wall of blocks. Over the top of the barrier he saw that the van had dropped two more pallets further on, sealing off the road for fifty yards. Far ahead, the van and the bike were starting up the rise over which Hazel’s Ferrari had already disappeared.

He studied the pile of blocks briefly. It was a formidable obstacle; almost impossible to scale. Nevertheless, he had to try. He hit the gear lever and slammed the Rover into extra low. Then he revved the engine and flew at the barrier. He began to climb it torturously, the chassis banging and scraping over the jumbled blocks which shifted under the Rover’s weight, denying the wheels traction. His speed bled off until he was stranded and high-centred halfway up the barrier with three of his wheels spinning futilely in the air and the offside front wheel jammed between two of the concrete blocks.

Ahead of him the van and its escort disappeared over the rise. Truly desperate by now, Hector slammed the gears into reverse. He gunned the motor again and the vehicle rocked and slewed sideways, threatening to topple over and roll back down the pile. Gravity took hold at last and it bounced back onto the level road, regaining its equilibrium. He opened the door and jumped out onto the footboard. He looked about desperately, trying to find a passable way around the heap of blocks.

He saw that hard up against the road on each side ran barbed-wire fences, obviously to keep livestock off the embankment. Below each fence ran a drainage ditch. The mud in the ditches was shiny black and glutinous, but there was no other way round.

‘They set this up cunningly. Narrow road, cargo of bricks to block it, bog, fence and ditch on each side. Crafty bastards!’ he fumed as he slipped back behind the wheel, snapped on his seat belt again and performed a quick three-point turn. He lined up the Rover on a section of the fence in which two of the wire strands had rusted almost through. He drew a deep breath and muttered, ‘Here goes nothing!’ The Rover flew off the verge into the fence. The weakened strands of wire snapped like a double whiplash, and he plunged through into the ditch beyond. He was flung up against the seat belt so violently that he thought his collar bone had broken. He ignored the pain and wrestled with the steering wheel that kicked and spun in his grip. Painfully the Rover dragged itself out of the muddy ditch, and into the open meadow beyond. He turned and ran parallel to the tarmac road. The going was muddy and treacherous. Twice he nearly bogged down, but the Rover ploughed on with mud and clods of turf thrown high from the spinning wheels. Mud splattered the windscreen until he could hardly see through it. He switched on the window washer. He passed the piles of concrete blocks on the road above him. He eased the Rover back towards the embankment, making no sudden movement of the wheel. The Rover increased speed slowly as the ground firmed. He saw that the drainage ditch was shallower here. He drove straight into it. The Rover bucked and her nose slewed from side to side but she struggled out of the far side of the ditch. Here the embankment was lower and its slope gentler. He charged up it and hit the fence above it. The barbed wire checked the Rover for a heart-stopping moment but then the fence pole snapped and the fence itself was flattened. The Rover rolled over it, and lurched onto the paved roadway. Hector spun the wheel to point her up the hill and with a grunt of relief raced for the crest over which Hazel and her pursuit had disappeared.

*

Hazel was only three miles from the turn-off onto the estate road that led to Brandon Hall, and with the same anticipation of a horse smelling its stable she quickened her pace.Without realizing it she began to pull away from the Mercedes van coming up behind her. She was unaware of its presence. It was her habit to use the mirror above her head more for touching up her make-up rather than for any other purpose.

The driver in his Richard Nixon mask was at the limit of his speed, but abruptly he saw the Ferrari begin to pull away from him. He knew he had to catch her before she reached the turn-off onto the Brandon Hall Estate. He opened his side window and stuck his upper body out of it. He flashed his headlights and waved one arm wildly above his head while with his other hand he blew a long blast on his horn. He saw the red brake lights on the Ferrari ahead of him glow brightly. Once again the van began to overhaul the sports car, but the van driver kept his hand on the horn and his headlights flashing.

Hazel was startled by these antics, until she realized that he was signalling her to stop . . . but why would he do that? Then she saw that the road behind the van was empty. There was no sign of Hector’s Range Rover and her face paled with shock.

Something terrible has happened to Hector. The van driver is trying to warn me. Maybe Hector has crashed. Perhaps he has been hurt or . . . She could not finish the thought, it was too horrible. She hit her brakes hard and swerved onto the narrow grass verge. The van raced up behind her, still hooting and flashing its headlights. The driver grinned behind his mask as he saw that his ploy had worked, and that the woman in the red sports car was confused and alarmed by his erratic behaviour. The red car was ideally positioned for his purpose on the lip of the ditch. The barbed-wire fence had ended some distance back but the drainage ditch still ran beside the road.

At that moment the Range Rover appeared on the crest of the rise behind them. Hector took in the scene at a glance.

‘Don’t stop for the bastard!’ he screamed despairingly. ‘Keep going as fast as you can, my darling. Don’t stop, for Chrissake!’ He had his foot flat on the accelerator and as the Rover felt the downwards slope it spurted forward, picking up speed rapidly. But he was still a quarter of a mile back, a helpless spectator to the developing tragedy being played out ahead of him.

The Mercedes van never slowed as it came up to the stationary Ferrari, but as it drew level the driver spun his steering wheel hard over and broadsided into her. There was a clash of steel on steel and a shower of sparks. The lighter sports car was flung over the lip into the drainage ditch; the entire right-hand side of the bodywork was deeply scored and buckled. It came to rest in the bottom of the ditch. It lay on its side with its two nearside wheels high in the air. The Mercedes van rocked wildly, swaying and skidding away from the impact back towards the opposite verge. The driver skilfully countered its gyrations and, as he regained control, opened the throttle and raced away with barely any reduction in his speed.

The motorbike had been following the van closely, but now it skidded to a stop in the roadway, level with the Ferrari in the ditch. The driver remained astride the saddle holding the Honda poised for a getaway, but the passenger sprang off the pillion and raced towards the upended Ferrari. The man was quick and agile as an ape. He leapt from the lip of the ditch onto the battered right-hand side of the sports car and stood poised over the driver’s window, balancing there with both arms lifted high above his head. Only then did Hector realize that he was wielding a four-pound lump hammer. Even the shatterproof glass window could not resist the tremendous blow that he delivered from on high. The glass starred and sagged in its frame. The helmeted man lifted the hammer and swung again. This time the glass exploded into thousands of sparkling chips that showered down over Hazel. She was still in the driver’s seat, held by the safety belt around her bloated waist. She threw up her hands to protect her face from the flying glass. The man above her hurled the hammer aside and in the same movement reached for something in the cargo pocket of his leather jacket.

Hector was close enough now to the scene of the crash to see exactly what it was he pulled from his pocket. It was a Smith & Wesson pistol chambered in .22 Long Rifle and fitted with a nineinch silencer. This was the weapon of choice of the Israeli Mossad executioners. With his free hand the gunman raised the perspex visor from his face, and he aimed the elongated barrel down through the window.

Hazel looked up at him. She saw that he was young and black. Then she realized the menace of the pistol pointed at her face and she looked over the barrel into her attacker’s eyes. His stare was flat and merciless.

‘No!’ she whispered. ‘Please. I am having a baby. You mustn’t do this. My baby . . .’ She raised her hands to protect her face. The man’s expression did not change and he fired. The silenced weapon made almost no sound. It was just a soft, almost polite pop. Then the man looked up and saw Hector’s Range Rover bearing down on him. There was no time for a second shot, but he was a pro, and he knew the first had done the business. He spun round and jumped down off the battered bodywork of the Ferrari. As he landed, the Range Rover hit him squarely in his back. The sound of the impact was a meaty thump. His body was hurled back over the roof of the Rover. Hector never reduced his speed. He drove straight on, aiming for the man on the front seat of the Honda.

The biker tried to avoid his rush by dropping his machine hard over and opening the hand throttle wide to bring the Honda around in a tight skidding turn. He almost succeeded in avoiding the Rover’s charge. But Hector was too quick for him. He wrenched the steering sharply and managed to catch the Honda’s spinning rear wheel with the point of his front bumper. The bike cartwheeled end over end and the rider was thrown from the saddle, under the front wheels of the Rover. Both the front and the back wheels of the heavy vehicle bumped over his body. In his rear-view mirror Hector saw him lying sprawled in the roadway. His crash helmet must have protected him,

for he sat up groggily. Hector slammed on his brakes and crash changed the Rover into reverse. He shot backwards and his victim saw the big vehicle coming back at him and tried to get to his feet. Hector hit him again. He went down under the body of the Rover and Hector felt him bumping and thumping along under the chassis until he rolled out from under the front end and lay face down on the tarmac surface of the road. Hector jumped out of the Rover and ran to him. He stooped over him and in one quick motion he flicked open the buckle of his helmet, ripped it from his head and dropped it aside. Then he placed his knee between the man’s shoulder blades to anchor him, pinned the back of his neck with one hand and reached around with the other to cup his chin. With one quick wrench he twisted his head almost fully around. The vertebrae snapped with a sound like the breaking of a stick of dry firewood. There was a spluttering noise from the man’s black leather breeches and a sharp fetid stink as his bowels voided. Hector snatched up the helmet, crammed it back on his head and buckled it in place. Then he carefully opened the visor of the helmet to expose the man’s face. The police were going to ask questions. He was not going to blindside himself. He did not have to worry about leaving fingerprints; he was still wearing his leather gloves. He was desperate to get to Hazel, dreading what had happened to her, but he dared not leave a living enemy behind him. He had to clear his back. That was one of the vital laws of survival.

The gunman who had fired at Hazel was dragging his paralysed lower body along on his elbows. Obviously either his spine or his pelvis had been smashed when Hector had knocked him down, but he was still armed. Hector had to make sure of him. The hammer lay on the verge of the road where the gunman had thrown it. Hector scooped it up on the run. He hefted it as he came up behind the gunman. The man had his chin lowered onto his chest so that the helmet on his head was cocked forward. The lower part of his neck, just above the level of the C4 vertebra, was exposed. Accuracy rather than brute force were necessary to finish the job. Hector swung the hammer no more than eighteen inches but he whipped his wrist into the blow. The force of the steel head on bone jarred his grip and he heard the vertebrae break. The gunman’s head dropped forward and he lay still. Hector dropped on one knee and flipped the gunman over onto his back. His visor was lifted. His eyes were wide open but unfocussed. There was a look of mild surprise on his dark Nilotic features. Hector slipped off his glove and touched the man’s throat, feeling for the carotid artery. There was no pulse. Hector grunted with satisfaction, and pulled on his glove again.

‘No doubt where you come from, laddie. I’ve seen your ilk before,’ he said grimly as he glanced at the face of the corpse. He deliberately left the helmet visor open. He took a moment longer to place the shaft of the sledgehammer in the man’s dead hand and squeeze his fingers closed around it. When the police studied the scene they would be unlikely to conclude that he had used the hammer to break his own neck.

Waste no more time looking for his pistol. Leave that for the police to find, he decided as he jumped to his feet and ran to the overturned Ferrari. He scrambled up onto it. He stood over the shattered window and looked down on Hazel. She was slumped over the steering wheel. He knelt quickly and reached down to cup her head in both his hands. Gently he rolled it back so he was able to see her face. With a huge lift of relief he saw that no sign of a bullet wound marred her lovely features. Her eyes were open, but they stared ahead blankly.

Concussion. He tried to rationalize her lack of reaction. She must have hit her head when the car went over. Then he spoke aloud. ‘You are going to be okay, my baby. We’ll have you out of there in a jiffy.’ But still he used his teeth to pull off one of his gloves, then slipped his bare fingers down under her chin and felt for her carotid just to make certain.

‘Thank you, Lord.’ He felt the artery pulsing, softly but steadily under his fingers. He had to wriggle the upper half of his own body into the empty window frame to reach down to the buckle of her seat belt. He steadied her with one arm round her shoulders as he clicked open the buckle, and then with both hands under her armpits he lifted her. She was big with the child in her and his stance on the body of the wreck was insecure, but he used all his strength to lift her dead weight. He growled with the effort, but slowly he brought her head out of the window. Her chin was lolling forward on her chest.

‘That’s my girl,’ he gasped. ‘We are nearly there. Hold tight.’ With another convulsion of every muscle in his upper body he lifted her high enough to get her swollen belly clear of the windowsill. Then he eased her into a sitting position and slipped her left arm over his own shoulders to prevent her flopping over backwards. He recovered his breath quickly, for he was still in very good physical condition despite the soft life he had lived recently. He turned his head to kiss her cheek and whisper close to her ear, ‘That’s my good brave girl.’ As he shifted his grip on her arm he saw with a jump of his own heart that her left hand was bleeding. He stared at it in trepidation until he realized that the heavy gold wedding ring on her third finger had been beaten or knocked out of shape by some powerful force. The metal had cut into her flesh and the blood oozed from the wound.

‘The bullet!’ he breathed. She must have covered her face with her hands as that swine aimed at her. The bullet must have hit the ring. It was only a light .22 calibre and it had been deflected from her face. He exulted. ‘She’s going to live. It’s all going to be all right.’

His strength came flooding back. He swung his legs over the side of the Ferrari and once he was in a sitting position he was able to work her legs out of the window and swivel her whole body round until he held her on his lap with her head cushioned against his shoulder. Then he lowered his feet to the ground and ran to the Range Rover, carrying Hazel in his arms like a sleeping child. He opened the back door and carefully laid her on the seat. He wedged the travelling blanket and the seat cushions around her to prevent her slipping onto the floor. He stood back and smiled at her, but it was a thin and desperate smile which never reached his eyes.

‘You will never know how much I love you,’ he told her, and was about to close the door when he saw something which brought his fear flooding back. A thin glistening snake of blood crawled out from under her blonde hairline and ran down her cheek, onto her chin and neck.

‘No!’ he blurted. ‘Oh God, no!’ He reached out one hand to her, but he was reluctant to touch her and discover the worst. He forced himself to do it, and he parted the golden waves of her hair. The bullet hole had been hidden beneath them. Hector brought his face close to hers and studied the wound. He was a soldier, and he had seen countless bullet wounds. His first estimate of the situation was confirmed. The light bullet must have been deflected by the heavy gold ring, but it had also been tumbled. The deflection had not been sufficient to leave Hazel untouched. The bullet had hit her high in the front of the skull. The entry wound was not a neat circular puncture but an elongated tear in her scalp. The bullet had rolled in flight and hit her sideways on.

Gently he ran his fingers back through her hair, examining her scalp. There was no sign of any exit wound. The bullet was still inside her skull; inside her brain.

He closed his eyes tightly. Yes, he was a soldier and he had seen many good men go down. But not this, never the one woman he had ever truly loved. He had thought he was tough and he had thought he could take it. But he discovered now he was not and he couldn’t. His soul quailed. His universe reeled. He braced himself. It took an enormous physical effort, but he spoke aloud to himself. ‘You stupid bastard! Standing here moping while her life bleeds away. Move! Damn you, move!’

He closed the door and ran round to the driver’s side. He clambered into the seat. The engine had stalled. He started it again. His mind was racing now. The nearest general hospital was the Royal Hampshire in Winchester. The road behind him was blocked and impassable. He calculated the quickest alternative route to reach it. It would put an extra eight miles on the journey.

Nothing else for it, he told himself grimly and gunned the Rover. He drove fast, very fast. He took chances passing other vehicles in dangerous situations. This was nearly his downfall, but also his ultimate salvation. He shot past a heavily laden lorry that was lumbering up a blind rise. In doing so he avoided by mere inches a head-on collision with an oncoming police car. The driver made an immediate U-turn and came after him with the siren blaring. Hector saw in the rear-view mirror the vivid blue and yellow reflective markings of the vehicle, and the peaked cap of the police driver chasing him.

‘Thank you, God!’ he breathed and pulled over immediately. The police car parked in front of him and two uniformed officers jumped out and came back to him with grim expressions. Hector lowered his window and stuck his head out. Before either of the traffic officers could speak he shouted at them.

‘My wife has been shot in the head. She is dying. You must give me an escort to Winchester Hospital A & E.’ They both paused with their grim expressions changing to consternation. ‘Here! Take a look. She is on the back seat,’ Hector insisted. The man with sergeant’s chevrons on his sleeve ran to the rear window and peered in.

‘Jesus!’ he said. ‘There is blood all over the place.’ He straightened up and looked at Hector. ‘Okay! Follow me, sir.’

‘Let your mate ride in the back with my wife. He can cushion her head from being thrown about.’

‘Peter, you heard the man,’ the sergeant snapped, and the younger man scrambled into the back seat of the Rover.

Gently Hector helped him settle Hazel’s head onto his lap. Then he shouted to the sergeant, ‘All set. Let’s go.’ The patrol car raced away with its siren howling and Hector’s Range Rover close on its tail.

There was an ambulance parked outside the main doors to the emergency room at the hospital, but the sergeant gave it a blast with the siren and it moved off the stand hurriedly as Hector drove up. The sergeant jumped out and ran into the building. He came back almost at once leading a white-coated orderly pushing a theatre trolley. Hector helped the orderly lift Hazel’s limp body onto the trolley and cover her with a sheet.

‘Go with your wife, sir,’ the sergeant told him. ‘I’ll wait here to take your statement later. You will have to tell us how this happened.’ ‘Thank you, officer.’ Hector turned and followed the trolley into the entrance. A young female doctor accosted him. ‘What happened to this lady?’

‘She was shot in the head. There is a bullet in her brain.’

‘Take the patient to X-ray,’ the doctor snapped at the orderly. ‘Tell them, I want front and side plates of the head.’ Then she glanced at Hector. ‘Are you related to the patient?’

‘She is my wife.’

‘You’re in the best place, sir. The consulting neurosurgeon from London is here today. I will ask him to come to examine your wife as soon as he can.’

‘Can I stay with her?’

‘I am afraid I have to ask you to wait until she has been to X-ray and until the neurosurgeon has examined her.’

‘I understand,’ Hector said. ‘You will be able to find me outside with the police. They want to take a statement from me.’

Hector spent the next half-hour with the police sergeant sitting in the front seat of the police car. The officer’s name was Evan Evans. Hector gave him directions to the scene, and a brief description of the nature of the attack.

‘I was trying to defend my wife from the assailants,’ Hector explained, but he was careful not to give too many details. As far as the law was concerned he had committed a double murder. He had to have time to think his cover story through. ‘I drove my Range Rover into their motorcycle and I think both the riders were injured. I did not have time to attend to them. I was most anxious to get my wife under proper medical care.’

‘I can understand that, sir. I will phone my headquarters immediately and have them send a vehicle to the scene. I am afraid they will have to impound your wife’s car for a full forensic examination.’ Hector nodded his understanding, and the sergeant went on, ‘I know you will want to be with your wife now, but we shall require a full written and signed statement from you as soon as possible.’

‘You have my home address and my mobile phone number.’ Hector opened the car door. ‘I will be available any time you need me. Thank you, Sergeant Evans. When my wife recovers, a great deal of the credit for that will go to you.’

As he walked back into the hospital the young doctor hurried to meet him.

‘Mr Cross, the neurosurgeon has examined your wife and her Xray plates. He would like to speak to you. He is still with Mrs Cross. Come with me, please.’

The neurosurgeon was in a screened examination cubicle bending over Hazel’s supine figure, which was still on the trolley. He straightened up as Hector entered the cubicle and came to meet him. He was a handsome middle-aged man. He had the self-assured air of one both intelligent and highly competent; a master of his craft.

‘I am Trevor Irving, Mr . . . ?’

‘Cross. Hector Cross. How is my wife, Mr Irving?’ Hector cut across the pleasantries.

‘The bullet has not exited.’ Irving was just as business-like. ‘It’s lying in an extremely delicate position, and there is bleeding. It must be removed, and at once.’ He pointed to the backlit X-ray plate on the scanner beside Hazel’s bed. The dark shadow of the tiny roundnosed projectile stood out boldly against the soft billows of brain tissue that surrounded it.

‘I understand.’ Hector averted his eyes. He didn’t want to look at that terrible harbinger of her death.

‘There is a complication in that your wife is pregnant. How far along is she?’

‘Forty weeks. She was examined by her gynaecologist this morning.’ ‘I thought it might be that far advanced,’ Irving said. ‘The foetus will be dangerously distressed by the mother’s surgery. If we lose her, we might lose her child with her.’

‘You have to save my wife at all costs. She is the one who bloody counts.’ Hector’s tone was savage. Irving blinked.

‘They both bloody count, Mr Cross. And don’t you bloody forget that.’ His tone matched Hector’s.

‘I apologize unreservedly, Mr Irving. Of course I did not mean that. My only excuse is that I am distraught.’

Irving recognized in Hector Cross a man who did not back down easily. ‘I am going to do my utmost to save both of them, mother and child. However, we will need your permission for Doctor Naidoo here to immediately remove the child by Caesarean section using a spinal block anaesthetic. Only then can I proceed to remove the bullet.’

He turned to the other physician in the cubicle, who came forward to shake Hector’s hand. He was a young Indian man but there was almost no trace of an accent as he said, ‘The baby is still in very good condition. Caesarean section is a very simple procedure. There is almost no danger involved and neither your wife nor your child will be traumatized.’

‘All right, then. Do it. I’ll sign any piece of paper you need,’

Hector said. He felt as cold as his voice sounded in his own ears.

*

A nurse conducted Hector to a hospital waiting room. There were half a dozen other people there before him. They all looked up expectantly as Hector entered, but then slumpedwith disappointment and resignation. Hector helped himself to a cup of coffee from the communal urn. He saw his hands were shaking and the cup chattered against the saucer. With an effort he controlled them, and found a seat in a corner of the large room.

He was accustomed to being in complete command of any situation, but now he felt helpless. There was nothing for him to do but wait. And not allow despair to overtake him.

He had not had a chance to think things through since the dreadful moment that the Mercedes van with the masked driver had roared past him on the narrow road. From that moment he had been driven only by adrenalin and the instincts of survival towards himself and his loved ones, Hazel and the infant. This was his first chance to evaluate the situation soberly and calmly.

One thing was certain; he was in a war to the knife. He had to shore up his mental defences and prepare for the next assault from a faceless and hidden enemy. He could only guess whence it would come. All he was really certain of was that it would come.

However, his mind was still playing tricks with him. His despair returned in full force; this feeling of confusion and uncertainty, this overpowering sense of dread. All he was able to concentrate on was the picture in his mind of the trickle of blood running down Hazel’s face and the nothingness in her staring eyes.

He took a gulp from the coffee mug and pressed the fingers of his free hand into his eye sockets until it hurt; trying to rally his resources. It took a while, but at last he had himself under control.

‘Okay. So what have we learned about the nature of the beast?’ he asked himself. He reached into the inside pocket of his suit and found his small moleskin notebook. ‘The van was almost certainly stolen, but I have the registration number.’ He scribbled it down. ‘Next, the driver of the Mercedes. Very little there. Face covered by the mask.’ He replayed the brief sighting in his mind and scanned it for details. ‘Blue denim work shirt, probably fifteen quid at Primark.’ He paused for a moment, and then went on. ‘Left arm bare. Very dark skin. Good muscle tone. Young and fit.’ He wrote it down in his own personal shorthand. ‘Impression of a wristwatch on his skin, but no watch. Careful bastard, then. Stripping for action. Red tattoo on back of the hand. Heart? Scorpion? Coiled snake? Not sure.’ He paused. ‘Nothing else there. What about the two dearly departed? Police forensics will check their fingerprints and will milk every other detail from their cadavers. Though there is little doubt about their tribal origins. I had a good look at them both, post culling. Those Nilotic features are unmistakable. Thin nose and lips. Prominent front teeth. High cheekbones. Handsome. Tall, lean bodies. Almost certainly Somalis.’ Then he smiled grimly at his own naïvety. ‘Or Maasai, or Ethiopian, or Samburu or any one of the other Nilotic tribes. But Somali still makes the most sense to me. The dynasty of Tippoo Tip, the great warlord. They were the original Beast. They were the ones who hijacked Hazel’s yacht; who kidnapped Cayla; who hacked off her head and sent it to us in a bottle. This is very much their style. I thought that I had culled most of that clan. I thought that I had got them all, but a nest of scorpions breeds up again quickly. Could easily be that some of them escaped us to carry on the blood feud.’

Hector had often tried to fathom the tradition of these honour killings. The blood feud was one of the concepts of Sharia law most alien to the Western mind. The aim of the blood feud was neither punishment nor retribution. If it were, then the killing would be of the original perpetrator of the crime, and once that had been achieved the matter would come to an end. It is rather the cleansing of the family honour by the slaying of any member of the offender’s family. Of course, the spilled blood of that victim cries out to the opposite family for purification. Circle without end.

Hector sighed. ‘Time to call up some help here.’ He did not have to ponder that question. There was only one answer: Paddy O’Quinn. Good old Paddy and his merry men.

When Hector and Hazel had first met, Hector had been the owner and operator of Cross Bow Security. Cross Bow’s only client was Bannock Oil, the enormous oil conglomerate that Hazel still headed as CEO. Once the two of them had united, Hazel had wanted Hector close to her at all times. She had persuaded him to take up a position on the board of directors of Bannock Oil, and to sell all his holdings in Cross Bow to Bannock Oil so that he would be free to join her. The price Bannock Oil paid to buy Hector out was substantial but completely fair. It was a sum sufficient to make him financially independent and the master of his own destiny. This was Hazel’s way of ensuring that Hector was a free man, and that they could always be equal partners in their marriage. She did not want him to be subservient to her by reason of her own vast wealth. She knew he was an alpha male and would not, could not, have tolerated any other arrangement for long. It was a gesture so typical of her.

‘Smart as new paint and twice as beautiful!’ His mood lightened for a moment as he thought of her, but almost immediately the dark clouds closed over him again.

Paddy O’Quinn had been Hector’s second in command at Cross Bow. He had helped Hector build up the company from the earliest days. There was no man Hector trusted more. He was solid as a mountain, he was savvy and quick, but over all his other virtues he had the fighting man’s instinct for danger almost as strongly as did Hector himself. Hector took comfort in the fact that Paddy was only a phone call away.

His reverie was interrupted by a hospital nurse who entered the waiting room and called out his name. He jumped to his feet.

‘I am Hector Cross.’

‘Please come with me, Mr Cross.’ As he hurried after her, Hector glanced at his wristwatch. He had been waiting a little over an hour and a half. He caught up with the nurse in the passage.

‘Is everything all right?’ he demanded to know. ‘Yes indeed.’ She smiled at him.

‘My wife?’

‘She is in theatre. Mr Irving is still operating on her. But I have somebody else for you to meet.’ She led him through a labyrinth of passages to a door marked Maternity Observation Room.

When they entered, Hector found that there were chairs arranged along one wall facing a large glass panel that looked into a room beyond. The nurse spoke into a microphone on the table below the window.

‘Hi there, Bonnie! Mr Cross is here.’

To which a disembodied voice replied, ‘Be with you in a sec.’ Hector stood close to the window and minutes later another nurse,

in the uniform of a ward sister, entered the observation room on the far side of the glass. She was possibly thirty years of age; young to carry such high rank, Hector thought. She was plump and pretty with a round, jovial face. She carried in her arms a small bundle wrapped in a blue blanket which was embroidered with the initials RHCH in red, Royal Hampshire County Hospital. She came to the opposite side of the window and gave Hector a beaming pink smile. It was contagious and Hector smiled back at her, although it was not indicative of his true feelings.

‘Hello, Mr Cross. My name is Bonnie. May I have the pleasure of introducing you to somebody?’ She opened the blankets to reveal a ruddy and wrinkled little face with tightly closed slits for eyes. ‘Say hello to your daughter.’

‘Good God! She’s got no hair.’ Hector came out with the first thing that sprang to mind, and immediately realized how inane it sounded, even to him.

‘She’s very beautiful!’ said the nurse sternly. ‘In a funny sort of way, I suppose she is.’

‘In every possible way she is,’ she corrected him. ‘She weighs exactly six pounds. Isn’t she a clever girl? What are you going to call her?’

‘Catherine Cayla. Her mother chose those names.’ Surely he should feel more than this when he looked at his firstborn child, but instead he thought of Hazel lying somewhere nearby with a bullet in her brain. He was on the verge of tears and he coughed and blinked them back. The last time he had cried openly was at the age of six when his pony had thrown him and he had broken his arm in three places on landing.

Catherine Cayla opened her mouth in a wide yawn which exposed her toothless gums. Hector smiled and this time the smile was genuine. He felt a small flame flare in his heart.

‘She is beautiful,’ he said softly. ‘She’s bloody gorgeous. Just like her mother.’

‘Oh! Look at the little darling,’ said Bonnie. ‘She’s already hungry. I am going to take her for her first feed. Say bye-bye, Daddy.’

‘Bye-bye,’ said Hector dutifully. No one had ever called him Daddy before. He watched the nurse carry his daughter away. For a short while that tiny soul had shone for him like a candle in the darkness of a winter’s night. Now she was gone the arctic cold of despair descended upon him once more. He turned away from the window and went back to the main waiting room.

He sat hunched in a corner chair. The darkness broke over him in waves. He searched his soul for the courage to endure it, and found instead anger.

Anger is a better cure than resignation. He squared his shoulders, and stood up straight. He left the waiting room and went out into the passage. He found the men’s toilet and locked himself in a cubicle and sat on the seat. He took his mobile phone from the leather pouch on his belt. Paddy O’Quinn’s number was in his contact list.

The phone rang three times and then Paddy said, ‘O’Quinn.’ ‘Paddy. Where are you?’ Hector spoke into the mouthpiece. His tone was crisp and sharp again.

‘Sweet Jesus! I thought you had dropped off the end of the world, Hector.’ They had not spoken to each other in months.

‘They got Hazel.’

Paddy was stunned into silence. Hector could hear him breathing hoarsely. Then he said, ‘Who? How?’ His voice rang like a sabre being drawn from its scabbard.

‘Four hours ago we ran into an ambush. It’s bad. Hazel took a .22 calibre bullet in her brain. She’s in theatre now. The medico is going for the bullet. We don’t know yet if she’s going to make it.’

‘She’s a great lady, Heck. You know how I feel.’

‘I know, Paddy.’ They were warriors, they didn’t wail and bleat. ‘She was pregnant, wasn’t she? What about her baby?’ Paddy growled.

‘They saved her. We have a girl. She seems to be doing well.’ ‘Thank God for that, at least.’ Paddy paused and then he asked, ‘Do you have any leads?’

‘I cancelled two of the bastards. They were Somalis, I think.’

‘It has to be the Beast again!’ Paddy said. ‘I thought we had got all of them.’

‘That’s what I thought. We were wrong.’ ‘What do you want me to do?’ Paddy asked.

‘Find them for me, Paddy. Some of the Tippoo Tip brood must have survived. Find them.’

Hector had built up Cross Bow Security into a formidable operation on the principle that offence was more effective than defence and that good intelligence was the most powerful offensive asset. When Paddy took over from him he had built on those precepts. As one of the directors of Bannock Oil, Hector still had access to the accounts of Cross Bow. He knew just how much Paddy was spending on his intelligence arm. If it had been good before, now it had to be that much better. Hector went on speaking.

‘Is Tariq Hakam still with you?’ ‘He is one of my main men.’

‘Send him back into Puntland to search for any survivors of the family of Hadji Sheikh Mohammed Khan Tippoo Tip. Nobody knows that terrain better than Tariq. He was born there.’

‘After what we did to them in Puntland, any of them that got away are almost certainly dispersed across the Middle East.’

‘Wherever they are, just find them. Tariq must draw up a list of every male descendant of Khan Tippoo Tip over the age of fifteen years. Then we will hunt them down; every last one of them.’

‘I hear you, Heck. In the meantime I’ll be pulling for Hazel. If anybody can make it, she is the one. All my money is on her.’

‘Thanks, Paddy.’ Hector broke the contact and went back to the waiting room.

An hour dragged by like a cripple, and then another passed even more painfully before a theatre sister came for him. She wore a plastic cap over her hair. A surgical mask dangled around her neck and she had theatre slippers on her feet. ‘How is my wife?’ Hector demanded as he sprang to his feet.


Excerpted from Vicious Circle by Wilbur Smith. Copyright © 2013 by Wilbur Smith.
First published 2013 by Macmillan, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world: http://www.panmacmillan.com
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.