‘How come you always seem to get all the action?’ asked the cop sitting next to Tina in the back of the final car in the convoy. There was a mixture of irritation and admiration in his voice, and enough of a smile on his lips to suggest he was only riling her. ‘I reckon I’ve attended five hundred firearms incidents and you know how many times I’ve fired my gun?’
‘Let me guess,’ said Tina. ‘None.’
‘Exactly. See? It’s not fair. You just have to turn up somewhere and the shooting starts. It’s like you’re a magnet for it.’
‘I’m not usually the one doing the shooting, and things are a lot less fun if you’re unarmed.’ Which Tina had to admit wasn’t entirely true. Unarmed or not, she got a huge buzz from the action she’d been involved in, although it also took it out of her.
As the three-vehicle convoy made its way down the narrow country road leading to the safehouse where she was going to question Fox, she felt exhaustion beginning to overcome her. She’d almost been killed twice that day, had produced a month’s worth of adrenalin in a matter of hours, and only through sheer force of will had she fought off the shock that had enveloped her afterwards in both instances. But now all she could think of was her bed, and she hoped that Fox would give them the rest of the names they needed without further delay. The fact that he’d told her about Cecil Boorman was encouraging, but she doubted if they’d get the more important people so easily. Fox was the kind of amoral egotist who liked to draw things out.
The cop was still talking and Tina was doing her best to listen, but she wasn’t finding it easy. He was a nice enough guy — good-looking and friendly, which was usually a combination that worked for her — but she didn’t like talking about her exploits at the best of times, and especially not near the end of a long day. She looked out of the window at the gently sloping woodland on either side of the road — the trees bare and forbidding, their branches like swirling skeletal arms — and was suddenly aware of the phone ringing in her pocket.
It was Mike Bolt.
‘Where are you?’
She heard the stress and exhaustion in his voice and felt a stab of concern. ‘On the road down to the safehouse. We’re almost there.’
‘Turn round now. Get back on the main road.’
The shots erupted out of nowhere — a ferocious hail of automatic weapon fire that tore through the side of the car, shattering two of the windows. A bullet seemed to explode in Tina’s ear and blood splashed her face as the cop who’d been talking to her only a few seconds before tumbled sideways in his seat, already dead, blood pouring from an exit wound in the side of his head. At the same time the driver slumped forward, his hands dropping from the wheel, and the car veered to one side.
For a split second, Tina thought she’d been hit too, but she could feel no pain, nor the sudden, draining weakness that comes with a bullet wound. Mike had stopped talking and she realized with surprise that she was no longer holding the phone. It dawned on her that it had been shot out of her hand — probably by the bullet that had passed through the cop’s head.
Jesus! She’d dodged a bullet for the second time that day.
There was another burst of gunfire, and more glass shattered as a round whizzed past somewhere in front of Tina’s face before exiting through the passenger-side window. The shooting was coming from off to one side of them, and Tina thanked God she hadn’t been where the cop was sitting, otherwise she’d be dead by now.
She reacted fast, ducking down in the seat, using the cop’s body as a shield. Reaching out, she pulled his pistol — a Glock 17 — free from its holster. She could have gone for his MP5 but, having never fired one before, she decided to stick with what she knew. As another burst of gunfire hit the car, shattering more glass, Tina leaned over and yanked down the door handle before rolling out of the car and landing on her belly, keeping low, because it was still possible there was a shooter on this side of the car as well.
The surviving officer in the front passenger seat rolled out the same way, taking up a firing position behind the bonnet and cracking off a number of single shots into the gloom.
A loud explosion shook the ground and Tina saw a ball of flame rise up from the front of the convoy. It looked like it had been hit by some sort of IED and, as Tina watched, a firearms officer staggered into the road, his clothes on fire, before falling to the ground and rolling over and over in a bid to put the flames out.
The van carrying Fox had stopped a few yards in front of them, but there was no obvious movement inside, and aside from the officer on fire and the one crouching next to her, she could see no one else. The whole thing was happening so fast and dramatically it felt like stepping right into the heart of a nightmare.
Tina looked round quickly. There were no muzzle flashes coming from the woods on her side of the car, which made her think there weren’t that many attackers, although whoever they were, they clearly knew what they were doing.
The cop next to her was crouched down beneath the bonnet. He looked over as she crouched down next to him, leaning against the car and holding the Glock in both hands. He was older, in his forties, with the calm demeanour of a man who knew his job well. He asked if she was all right.
His voice was faint, thanks to the ringing in Tina’s ears. She nodded. ‘I think so.’
‘Stay where you are and leave this to me.’ He looked down at the Glock but made no comment. Now wasn’t the time to be worrying about whether she was allowed to use it or not. Slowly, he peered over the edge of the bonnet, scanning the trees for movement.
He squinted, frowning, then opened his mouth to say something.
But the next second there was a single burst of fire, and he fell back into a sitting position, a hole in his forehead above the right eye leaking a long line of blood that pooled on his top lip before running over his mouth and on to his neck. Then he toppled sideways and lay on the ground.
Dead. Just like that.
And suddenly Tina was on her own.