About the Book

About the Author

Also by Simon Kernick

Title Page


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-one

Chapter Forty-two

Chapter Forty-three

Chapter Forty-four

Chapter Forty-five

Chapter Forty-six

Chapter Forty-seven

Chapter Forty-eight

Chapter Forty-nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-one

Chapter Fifty-two

Chapter Fifty-three

Chapter Fifty-four

Chapter Fifty-five

Chapter Fifty-six

Sneak Preview of The Witness


About the Book


You’re on a trip with your family, miles from anywhere. A shot rings out – and your whole life changes in an instant.


A woman is racing towards you, chased by three gunmen. Although you don’t know it, she harbours a deadly secret. She’s in terrible danger. And now you are too.


You’re running, terrified, desperate to find safety.

You know that the men hunting you have killed before.

And if they catch you, you’ll be next . . .

About the Author

Simon Kernick is one of Britain’s most exciting thriller writers. He arrived on the crime writing scene with his highly acclaimed debut novel The Business of Dying, the story of a corrupt cop moonlighting as a hitman. Simon’s big breakthrough came with his novel Relentless which was the biggest selling thriller of 2007. His most recent crime thrillers include The Last Ten Seconds, The Payback, Siege and Ultimatum.

Simon talks both on and off the record to members of the Met’s Special Branch and the Anti-Terrorist Branch and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, so he gets to hear first hand what actually happens in the dark and murky underbelly of UK crime.

To find out more about his thrillers, visit;;

Also by Simon Kernick

The Business of Dying

The Murder Exchange

The Crime Trade

A Good Day to Die





The Last 10 Seconds

The Payback



Wrong Time, Wrong Place

Stay Alive

Simon Kernick

For my daughters, Amy and Rachel


21 days ago

AMANDA ROWAN HAD just stepped inside her front door, a shopping bag containing a pair of new shoes in one hand, her keys in the other, when she heard a sound that stopped her dead.

It was a faint, sudden gasp. Like air escaping from a tyre. Coming from somewhere upstairs.

Amanda listened intently, but all that came back at her was thick silence, interspersed with the ticking of the grandfather clock further down the hallway and, for a few seconds, she wondered if she’d imagined it.

The lights were on all over the house, and her husband’s Porsche was in the driveway, which meant he was home. He shouldn’t have been. He was supposed to be away on business in Manchester until the following afternoon. She’d seen him leave in the car early that morning, and had even spoken to him three hours earlier, just as he was about to go off to a client dinner. Except he hadn’t been going to a client dinner, because his car was here, two hundred miles away from Manchester.

Something had brought him back home early. And she knew exactly what it was.

George had been having an affair for months now. She’d found out about it purely by accident a few weeks earlier. One evening he’d forgotten to sign out of his Hotmail account on one of the two iPads they had in the house, and when she’d picked it up and tried to log into her own account, a long list of messages to George from an Annie Mac – a woman she’d never heard of – with subject titles like ‘I need you, darling’ and ‘Missing you desperately’, had appeared. Feeling numb, but not altogether surprised, Amanda had opened the first one and read it through. She didn’t need to read through any of the others. She got the gist.

Even so, it still rankled that he was so blasé about the whole thing that he’d bring his lover back here to the marital home. Maybe it had been her who’d made that strange noise, although it hadn’t sounded like anything she’d associate with lovemaking.

Amanda put down the shopping bag and closed the door quietly. Like her husband, she wasn’t meant to be coming back tonight. She’d arranged to stay overnight in London at her dad’s house, but her dad was a cantankerous old sod, and they’d had one of their inevitable arguments. Rather than let his angry barbs wash over her, as she usually did on the few occasions she visited him, Amanda had lost her temper, stormed out the door with a curse for a goodbye, and driven straight home.

It was weird though. No music was playing in the house, and the TV wasn’t on, which wasn’t like George. He needed background noise.

Upstairs, one of the floorboards creaked. Someone was creeping around up there and, even though she knew who it would be, Amanda tensed. That’s what happened when you lived in a three-hundred-year-old cottage in the middle of the woods, she thought. She loved this place. It had character, beauty, and desperately needed solitude, but it was also only a few miles from the M3, and barely an hour from the bright lights of London. And yet at night, when the only sounds were the hooting of owls, and the occasional drone of aircraft passing high overhead, it made her feel vulnerable. Especially without George’s background noise.

A floorboard creaked again. It was coming from one of the bedrooms. Amanda frowned. George was a big man who’d usually downed a bottle of red wine by this time of night, regardless of who he was with, and he tended to make a lot of noise moving about, even when he was trying to be quiet. He also had an irritating habit of loudly clearing his throat, especially when he’d had a drink.

But the creaking had stopped, and there was nothing coming from up there now.

The obvious conclusion was that he was trying to hide, because he knew he’d done something wrong. Like bringing his lover home while his wife was away.

Amanda stood in the hallway. Her heart was beating loudly and her mouth was dry. She wasn’t the sort of person who enjoyed furious confrontation. She preferred just to walk away when things went wrong. And she’d already lost her temper once tonight.

Pull yourself together, she told herself. This is your home.

Bracing herself, she called his name, her voice loud, but with just a hint of nervousness in it as it cracked through the dead silence.

No answer.

‘George? Are you up there? It’s me. Amanda.’

Still no answer.

‘Look, I know you’re there. Your car’s outside.’

Slipping off her heels and taking a deep breath, she slowly made her way up the staircase and onto the long narrow landing that ran the width of the house. The lights were on but it was empty. To her left, the door to the master bedroom – the room she shared with George, at least when he wasn’t snoring like a chainsaw – was wide open. It was dark inside but she could see that the bed was unmade, the sheets piled up and ruffled. There was no doubt there’d been action in there today.

Turning away, she saw that the light was on in the guest bedroom at the opposite end of the landing, and the door was ajar.

She took a step towards it, then another, before pausing and taking a deep breath that seemed loud in the silence. The house was suddenly utterly still. She kept walking towards the guest bedroom, her bare feet silent on the varnished floor, and stopped a foot away.

She couldn’t hear anything behind the door. Not even a breath. It was as if the whole world had stopped moving.

Reaching out a hand that was ever so slightly shaking, she gave the door a push, and as it creaked open a few inches, Amanda caught the pungent stink of blood and faeces, and saw the naked, bloodied foot sticking out on the carpet. The foot belonged to a woman. It was small and dainty, and the toenails were painted a bright, confident red, several shades lighter than the thick pool of blood forming on the carpet several feet further in.

Was that the noise she’d heard when she’d first come into the house? The final gasp of a dying woman?

If so, it could only mean one thing. The killer was still in the house.

Behind her, the floorboard creaked once again, and it felt as if icy fingers crawled up her spine.

Amanda swung round fast just as a man in dark clothing and a balaclava, taller and leaner than George, appeared in the doorway to their bedroom, barely twenty feet away.

For a long second, she didn’t move as her eyes focused on the hunting knife in his hand. Blood – fresh blood – ran down the groove and pooled at the tip, forming beads that dripped onto the floor.

She swallowed. There was no way she would reach the staircase before he did.

And then the intruder was coming towards her with long, confident strides, his boots banging hard and purposefully on the floor.

Acting entirely on instinct, Amanda scrambled over the landing stair rail, jumping the six feet down onto the staircase and falling down painfully on her behind, before scrambling to her feet again and bolting down the remainder of the steps, jumping the last five in one go as she heard him coming down behind her, moving just as fast as she was.

As her feet hit the floor at the bottom, she slipped on the floor and went down hard on her side, losing a precious second as the intruder charged down the staircase right behind her.

In one rapid movement, she jumped to her feet just as he threw himself down the last of the steps and landed barely a yard away from her.

Amanda had a choice of two exits – out of the back of the house or through the front – and only a split second to make her decision. Knowing that she hadn’t double-locked the front door behind her, as she usually did, she ran through the front hallway, trying desperately to keep her balance in her bare feet. She could hear his heavy breathing – he was that close – and it took all her willpower to slow up just enough to grab both handles of the door and yank it open, before throwing herself through the gap and into the cool outside air.

But she’d barely gone two yards when she felt a hand grab her jacket from behind, and she was yanked backwards into a tight embrace as his arm encircled her neck, the grip immediately tightening. Screaming as loudly as she could, Amanda thrashed wildly with a strength born of pure adrenalin, her arms flailing as she tried to fight her way out of his grip. She felt a surge of pure, hot pain as one arm collided with his knife, the blade slicing through the light jacket and shirt she was wearing, ripping through the flesh. But somehow she managed to drive an elbow into the side of his head with enough force for him to loosen his grip. Amanda went to the gym five times a week, and the previous year she’d done a boxing course. She was fit and she was strong and, right then, it counted in her favour. Wriggling free from his grip and dodging the knife, she threw a wild punch at him – something he clearly wasn’t expecting, the blow catching him full in the face.

He stumbled back, cursing and putting a hand to his nose, but still keeping the knife held out in front of him. Already he was beginning to right himself, and Amanda knew that she only had a few moments’ respite. Reaching down in one movement, she grabbed a handful of gravel from the driveway and flung it at him, before taking off in a run towards the thick wall of beech trees that bordered their property on three sides, ignoring the painful grind of the gravel on the soles of her feet.

Their nearest neighbour was Mrs Naseby, an elderly widow whose tiny cottage was about a hundred yards away. Other than exchanging Christmas cards, and occasional polite conversations if they crossed paths in the woods, she and George didn’t have much to do with Mrs Naseby, but Amanda was counting on the fact that she was home tonight as she sprinted through the trees, trying to put as much distance between herself and her house as possible. She stole a glance over her shoulder, but the dark space behind her was empty.

Mrs Naseby’s cottage loomed up out of the darkness in front of her, a dim light glowing from inside.

‘Be in,’ she hissed through gritted teeth. ‘Be in.’

She vaulted the wooden trellis at the end of Mrs Naseby’s ramshackle garden and continued up to the front door without pause. Glancing once more behind her, she hammered on it hard and then bent down and shouted through the letterbox. ‘Mrs Naseby, are you there? It’s Amanda Rowan from next door. Can you let me in? Please! It’s very urgent.’

Amanda could hear the sound of talking on the TV, but nothing else. She hammered on the door again, looking round at the same time to check that her assailant wasn’t following. She couldn’t see anything, and all she could hear was the pounding in her chest. The gash on her right arm was a good four inches long, and bleeding profusely, but there was no longer any pain. The adrenalin was taking care of that.

‘Come on, come on,’ she called out, banging on the door again.

‘Who’s there?’ came an uncertain voice.

Amanda leaned back down to the letterbox again, speaking rapidly, the fear in her voice obvious. ‘It’s me, Amanda, from next door. There’s been an accident. I need to call the police urgently. Can you let me in?’

There was a brief hesitation, and then the door slowly opened on a chain, and Mrs Naseby’s face appeared. She looked nervous but as soon as she saw the terrified expression on Amanda’s face, her nervousness turned immediately to concern. ‘Oh my goodness,’ she gasped. ‘You’re hurt. Come in quickly. Let’s call you a doctor.’ She removed the chain – her movements slow and awkward, the result of arthritis – and shuffled aside to let Amanda in out of the cold.

Amanda almost knocked her over in her haste to get inside the house. ‘Lock the door quickly,’ she shouted. ‘There’s someone out there.’

Mrs Naseby’s eyes widened in shock as she got a better look at the huge tear in Amanda’s jacket and the blood staining it red as it seeped out of the wound. She had one hand on the door handle, the other on her walking stick, but she didn’t seem to be making any effort to close the door.

Knowing the urgency of her situation, Amanda reached over to slam it shut but, before she could get there, it flew open, knocking Mrs Naseby against the wall and sending Amanda stumbling backwards. Mrs Naseby cried out, trying but failing to keep a grip on her stick. As the stick clattered to the floor, and her legs went from under her, she fell onto her side, just as the man came storming into the hallway, a renewed urgency about him.

Ignoring the old lady completely, he lunged at Amanda, knife first, his dark eyes burning beneath his balaclava.

Dodging him, she ran for the staircase, bounding up it as it whined and creaked beneath her feet, not sure where the hell she was going, but knowing she had to put as much distance between herself and her assailant as possible.

A door was open in front of her and she ran through it and into Mrs Naseby’s bedroom, noticing with huge relief as she slammed it behind her that there was a key in the lock. Pressing her whole body against the door, she locked it with shaking hands. She could hear him outside, his breathing calm and steady as he tried and failed to turn the handle.

A split second later, the door reverberated on its hinges as he slammed into it. It was only a flimsy lock and Amanda knew it wasn’t going to hold for long.

Shit. She was trapped. The door reverberated again and she heard the sound of wood splitting.

Looking round desperately, she spotted the half-open bedroom window. Running over, she forced it fully open, then clambered out through the gap just as the door flew open and he came striding in the room, making straight for her with the bloodied knife raised, like something out of one of her worst nightmares.

Gripping the window ledge with both hands, she turned herself round and slid down the wall. Then, just as she let go to jump the rest of the way, a gloved hand grabbed her wrist, and suddenly she was dangling helpless in mid-air.

As his sleeve rode up, she just had time to see the tattoo on his arm.

With his free hand, he brought the knife down towards her wrist. But as she pulled and wriggled with all her might, his grip loosened, and then she was falling through the air.

She hit the tarmac feet first and a stinging pain shot up her Achilles tendons as she rolled over and leapt to her feet, running again, making for the trees and freedom, tearing through the foliage. She felt a stinging pain in her right ankle but ignored it and kept running, running, running, making for the road, and anywhere where there might be people who could help her.

The hole appeared without warning and, as her foot ploughed straight into it, she tripped and went sprawling, landing painfully on the hard ground.

For a moment, she didn’t move, concentrating instead on quietening her breathing.

And then she heard it. The sound of a twig breaking, followed by undergrowth being pushed aside.

He was still following her.

Using her hands, she pushed herself into the lee of a holly bush, trying to get as far under it as possible. Finally, she lay still and held her breath.

Don’t move. Don’t speak. Don’t breathe. Don’t move.

In those moments, she thought about her own vulnerability, and the fact that a person’s world could change in the blink of an eye, or the deep, painful slash of a knife. One minute, she was a married woman living an easy life in idyllic surroundings, with few if any worries; the next she’d discovered a murder in her own home, and suddenly she was alone in the woods while the man who’d committed it hunted her with a knife.

She seemed to lie there for a long time. A minute? Two? Five? It was difficult to tell, and she didn’t dare look at her watch. But however long it was, she heard no further sound from her pursuer.

It seemed that he might have given up and gone.

And that was when she saw the glow of headlights coming from the road that ran through the woods, no more than fifty yards away. She had no idea who it could be. Very few cars used this route, especially at this time of night, because the road didn’t go anywhere, and there were only a handful of houses up here.

But in the end, none of that mattered. What mattered was that it couldn’t be the man chasing her because the car was coming from the wrong direction, which meant the headlights represented safety.

A twig cracked loudly a few feet away, and Amanda’s heart lurched. In the next instant, she was on her feet and sprinting through the woods, desperately trying to get to the car before it passed by. Screaming, too. Screaming at the top of her lungs, knowing that she must look a terrible sight to anyone driving through this lonely place at night, but no longer caring.

Her lungs felt as if they were bursting as she tore out of the trees and onto the road barely ten yards in front of the car, with its blinding headlights.

‘Help me!’ she yelled, waving her arms, hardly hearing the screech of brakes as the driver tried to stop, realizing at the last second that he wasn’t going to be able to manage it in time.

Amanda dived out of the way, crashing painfully into the tarmac, as the car passed by, inches away from her.

And then finally, mercifully, everything went black.


Today 11.00

THE WOUND ON Amanda Rowan’s left forearm still throbbed. It was a good four inches long, running in a near dead straight line to just above the wrist and, even though the stitches had long since been removed, the cut was still deep and raw – a permanent reminder of the events of that bloody night. She examined it in the mirror as she did every morning and evening – a symbol of her vanity – but, once again, there was no discernible improvement.

She turned away from the mirror and went over to the window, looking over the sprinkling of houses that made up the village she’d made her temporary home, hundreds of miles from the house she’d shared with her husband, which was now tainted beyond repair.

The police had said that George and his lover – a woman fifteen years his junior – had been the victims of a serial killer known as The Disciple who’d been terrorizing the south of England for most of the previous year. Amanda had been the first person to have confronted him and lived, and as everyone, including friends, family and the police had been keen to tell her, she was extremely lucky to have escaped a killer who’d built a reputation for ruthless efficiency in his work.

The twenty-four hours after the attack had been frenetic. First at the hospital, where they’d treated her, not only for shock and the stab wound on her forearm, but also the extensive bruising she’d received during her ordeal. After that it had been the exhaustive police interviews, when she’d had to go over and over what had happened, even though her first instinct was to bury it deep in the recesses of her brain. And then, finally, the inevitable media storm. Amanda’s case had an extremely compelling storyline. Not only was there the infidelity angle, the wronged wife returning home unexpectedly, but the fact that The Disciple had been so determined to kill Amanda that he’d chased her right through her neighbour’s house (thankfully, Mrs Naseby had been unhurt), forcing her to jump from a first-floor window, and that she’d only just missed being hit by a car during her escape, and still survived, was the stuff of media dreams. Everyone wanted to interview her. The Sun had even offered her a hundred grand for her exclusive story.

But all Amanda wanted to do was get as far away as possible from what had happened. The police hadn’t been keen for her to go. Instead they’d offered her twenty-four-hour protection at a local safe house until they had The Disciple in custody, but Amanda was insistent. She was escaping the media – at least for the time being – and she didn’t want a police officer living with her either. She’d given the lead detective on the case – a big, good-looking DCS called Mike Bolt – her new address, and promised to keep it secret, even from her immediate family, until The Disciple was in custody. The consultant psychiatrist working with the police on the case had also suggested it might not be a bad idea for Amanda to get well away from the scene of her trauma, so Mike Bolt had reluctantly agreed (not that he had much choice), and had arranged for the local police to keep an eye on her. She also had a panic button, with a direct line to the nearest police station, installed at the property.

‘You don’t think The Disciple’s going to come after me, do you?’ Amanda had asked Bolt. ‘There’s no way I could ID him, so I can’t represent any sort of threat.’

‘I wouldn’t have thought so,’ he’d told her, in a way that suggested it was possible he might, ‘but it’s always best to stay on the safe side.’

And stay on the safe side she had. She’d picked a location deep in the Scottish Highlands, in a village miles away from the nearest town, paying three months’ rent upfront. Only one person outside the police knew she was here, an old friend she trusted with her life – someone she knew would never betray her, either deliberately or otherwise.

She kept a low profile in the village, staying out of the pub and exchanging nothing more than brief formalities with her neighbours, none of whom recognized her, thanks to the fact they’d kept her picture out of the newspapers. Occasionally, one of the villagers would ask what a pretty young thing like her was doing living alone in the middle of nowhere, and Amanda would reply that she was writing a book, and wanted to be in a place that would give her the necessary inspiration. Further questions were fended off politely but firmly, and it hadn’t taken long for people to get the message.

As it happened, Amanda had told them at least part of the truth. She was writing a book. Or planning one, anyway. It was something she’d wanted to do since childhood, but had never got round to doing, and she’d been working on the plan until late the previous evening, which was why she’d risen so late today.

Amanda’s semi-detached stone cottage was the only house with two floors amongst the sprinkling of ugly, chalet-style, 1960s bungalows that made up the village of Sprey, and she loved to stand at her bedroom window looking out at the thick pine forest that started just beyond the tiny Presbyterian church. It was late October, and though winter was fast approaching, a watery sun was shining in a sky patchy with white clouds, and it looked as though it was going to be a nice afternoon. For Amanda, it was a toss-up between actually starting the first draft of her novel – something she kept putting off – or going for a nice long walk in the hills and woodland round her temporary home, or down by the river that ran beneath the village.

It wasn’t much of a decision really, and she was just about to go and make herself some brunch and a decent pot of coffee to give her sustenance for the walk ahead, when she saw something that made her stop.

A car she didn’t recognize – a black four-wheel drive too clean to have been out here long – was slowly passing her front gate, and the driver was looking right up at her. It was hard to see what he looked like because of the distance between her house and the road, but she was certain he wasn’t one of the local cops, and she didn’t like the way he turned away from her just a second too quickly.

As the car disappeared behind the hedge at the end of her front garden, a knot of tension formed in Amanda’s gut, and she realized she was grinding her teeth, a habit that she seemed to have picked up in the three weeks since George’s murder, and one she knew she had to stop as it was already beginning to drive her mad.

Taking a deep breath, she turned away from the window, telling herself not to get so paranoid. There was no way that The Disciple could know where she was staying and, even if by some incredible accident of fate he did, there was no way he’d risk coming all the way up here to kill her. He was a hunted man. It was just a matter of time before he was caught.

No, she told herself. She was safe. Nothing like that was ever going to happen to her again.


RIGHT FROM CHILDHOOD, it had always been Frank Keogh’s ambition to be a police officer, and there was never any danger that he wouldn’t achieve it. He worked hard at school, did well at sport, and the stubborn, single-minded streak he possessed – the one that often drove his family and friends mad – meant that he got in at the first attempt, aged eighteen, coming second highest in his class at Hendon.

Keogh didn’t just want to be any old cop. He wanted to be a detective, and bring the really serious criminals to justice. It was no surprise to anyone that he was in plainclothes by twenty-one, and a detective sergeant by twenty-five. The bosses up top liked him. He was tough, tenacious and patient, and they were already talking about him being DCI-level by the age of thirty.

The problem for Keogh was the rulebook. He’d always had a strong sense of natural justice. He wanted to see the bad guys suffer and the good guys win, and it offended him that this often didn’t seem to happen. The good guys – the police – were stymied by an ever-increasing set of rules. The bad guys often escaped justice because their lawyers were good, and the law was on their side. This injustice drove him mad, as did the fact that, in the end, the criminals were so easy to catch. It wasn’t like in the books or the movies, as he’d imagined it to be when he’d joined up. These people were idiots. They left a trail of evidence in their wake, meaning that most of the detective work was building a case to go to court and then filling out a load of paperwork.

Disillusioned, Keogh decided on a change in direction. He’d always had a thing about guns. There was something about their sheer power that fascinated him, and there’d been more than the occasional moment when he’d fantasized about putting one against the head of some cocky low-life thug and pulling the trigger. He never would have done, of course – he had far too much to lose for that – but he decided on the next best thing, by joining the Metropolitan Police’s elite CO19 firearms unit. He figured it would give him a new challenge, and a much-needed adrenalin rush now and again. His plan was always to go back into plainclothes eventually, work himself higher up the greasy pole, then retire and write a book about his experiences, which he was positive he could turn into a real success.

It surprised no one, least of all Keogh himself, that he got into CO19 at the first attempt. He remembered thinking when he went out on that first patrol, a gun at his hip as he and his colleagues drove through the mean streets of Lewisham, that this was as good as life got. He was young; he was good-looking; he had a beautiful fiancée. The world was his to dominate.

Except it wasn’t, because fate has a way of intervening when it’s least expected, and leaving the best-laid plans in ruins. And fate really had it in for Frank Keogh.

It was three months into his time in CO19 when the Armed Response Vehicle he was travelling in received an urgent call from Dispatch about a group of youths from a well-known local street gang travelling in a stolen vehicle, one of whom was reported to have brandished a gun at passers-by. They got a dozen calls like this every day, and rarely did they come across anyone who was actually armed, but each call had to be taken on its own merits and, because they were very close by, they’d raced to where the vehicle had last been sighted, intercepting it at some traffic lights.

All three of them had been out of the ARV in seconds, pistols drawn and shouting at the men inside the vehicle to put their hands above their heads. It looked as if the three of them were complying but, as Keogh approached the car from the side, the man in the back pulled something from his pocket. It was ten o’clock at night and dark, and Keogh had no idea what it was the man had in his hand, but Keogh remembered vividly him turning round rapidly in his seat and bringing up an object that looked a lot like a gun.

Keogh had pulled the trigger then, shooting him twice through the window at a distance of no more than five feet. One of the bullets caught him in the neck, the other hit him in the eye as the pistol kicked, and it was this one that was fatal.

It turned out that twenty-year-old Derrick ‘Slugs’ Foster had been holding a mobile phone when Keogh had shot him, and that none of the three men in the car was armed, not even with a knife. As far as Keogh was concerned, none of that mattered. He’d done his job, and he’d done it properly. The guy had pulled something that could have been a gun from his pocket and he’d looked as if he was going to fire it. In those situations, you have maybe a second and a half to make the choice of whether to fire or not. Make the wrong choice and you get shot, and Keogh was not the kind of guy who got shot because he was too scared to react.

But the bosses – those men who’d been so supportive of him when he was on the way up – didn’t see it like that. Neither did the local community. The following night, the estate where the dead man had lived was the scene of the worst rioting that London had witnessed in years, and within days a ‘Justice for Derrick’ campaign had been set up by local community leaders, backed by several sympathetic human rights lawyers, calling for charges of murder to be laid against the man who’d pulled the trigger.

Keogh was suspended from firearms duty, as was routine in such incidents. Then, as the furore mounted, and further street disturbances broke out in several other London boroughs, he was suspended from duty altogether. Then came the bombshell. The establishment had decided to bend to the power of the mob and the special interest groups. He was going to be charged with manslaughter. No one was above the law, said the well-groomed ex-public schoolboy from the CPS as he’d announced the charges at a news conference that was shown as the top story on every news channel.

During the run-up to the trial, Keogh’s fiancée left him, citing the pressure of the situation. He’d really had a thing for Kirsty. She was the one. They were going to have a family and grow old together. Losing her had been like a massive and continuous kick in the balls. He couldn’t get it out of his head that she’d rejected him. But, even then, Keogh hadn’t lost his self-belief. He still had support from his colleagues past and present, and he was certain that no jury would convict a serving police officer with an unblemished record for shooting dead a low-life like Derrick Foster in a spur-of-the-moment, high-pressure incident.

Unfortunately, he was wrong. Found guilty, he was sentenced to three years in prison. And it was hard time that he did, segregated from the main prison population for his own safety, and made to spend his days with rapists, paedophiles, and all the other assorted scum of the earth. The guards warned him to be careful even there because members of Derrick Foster’s gang inside the prison had put a contract out on Keogh’s head, and within two weeks he’d been attacked by a fellow con wielding a sharpened piece of plastic. He’d been slashed twice in the face and neck, and though he’d managed to fend off his attacker until help arrived, the good looks he’d prided himself on were ruined forever by the scars left behind.

They were the worst, darkest times of Keogh’s life. Brought as low as he’d ever been, he even contemplated suicide. But then, slowly but surely, that single-minded determination that had served him so well in the past came back into play. He forced himself to adapt to prison life and bide his time until release, and all the time his bitterness grew. He’d get his own back. On the bosses who’d hung him out to dry; on the public who’d done nothing to stop him being put behind bars. On every last one of them.

He got out in two years, already forgotten by the rest of the world, but it had only been a matter of time before his bitterness found an outlet, and so began a journey that had got him here today, driving slowly past Amanda Rowan’s rented cottage in a four-by-four.

She’d noticed him looking at her, he was pretty sure of that. He cursed, but kept driving. He was used to taking risks. It was all part of the job description, and at least now he knew she was where she was supposed to be. When he’d first arrived here in the darkness of the early hours, he’d considered breaking into the house, but she’d had at least half a dozen locks on the back door, and the brand-new PVC windows were locked and secure, with no sign of keys anywhere convenient. He’d also considered knocking on the door and showing his fake police ID, but had dismissed it as too risky. Amanda Rowan was no fool. There was no guarantee she’d let him in – the scars were always a problem like that – and, if she didn’t, then it would have blown everything.

Now that he knew she was at home, all he had to do was be patient. By coming to an isolated spot like this one, she’d made it far easier for him.

When he was about two hundred yards past her cottage, and the village had given way to fields with trees beyond, he made a right turn up a narrow lane. He followed the lane as it went straight for about fifty yards, passing a couple of barns, before swinging a sharp right back in the direction of the village. He stopped the Land Rover in a spot he’d recce’d earlier, and parked up on the verge amidst a copse of trees. From this position he could see the rear of Amanda’s cottage. Its rear garden backed directly onto a fallow field, and he could see a couple of kids playing on a trampoline in the garden next door.

If Amanda Rowan came out the back way, cutting across the field, he’d see her easily. If she went out the front, the tiny, sensor-operated camera that he’d planted in the undergrowth just inside her front gate would pick up the movement and start recording. Whatever happened, as soon as she left the house, he’d know about it.

And they’d finally be able to get to work.


JESS GRAINGER HAD never been in a canoe before, mainly because it had never crossed her mind to get in one. She wasn’t a big fan of water, unless it was steaming hot and pouring out of a showerhead. She could swim okay, but only because they’d made her learn at school – and she still wasn’t that great at it – and right now the thought of falling into a cold, grey Scottish river (which she was sure she would do by the end of the day) filled her with a mixture of dread, and resentment that she’d agreed to come along on this trip in the first place.

Uncle Tim must have read her thoughts because he clapped her hard on the back, his hand lingering for just a second too long. ‘You’re going to love it, Jessie,’ he said, giving her a big toothy smile as he took a deep breath of the fresh country air. ‘Just look at it.’ He took his hand away – thank God – and swung it round expansively as he admired the view of the gently running river, with the forest stretching up the hills that rose gently on each side of it.

‘Some of the best countryside in the world up here,’ the old guy who ran the place they were hiring the canoes from announced as he pushed one of them into the water, turning it round so that it rested in the shallows parallel to the bank. ‘And I’ve been to a hell of a lot of places, I’m telling you.’

Jess was sure he had. Thin and wizened beneath his beanie cap, with a face full of cracks and lines, the old guy looked just like an Arctic explorer. But his words didn’t make her feel any more enthusiastic as she clambered unsteadily into the front of the canoe, almost toppling out of the other side in the process, and lowered herself onto the hard wooden seat.

The old guy handed her a wooden paddle while Aunt Jean got in the back with all the grace of a rhino, landing heavily in her own seat.

‘I’ll do the steering, Jessie,’ announced Aunt Jean. ‘You just paddle. One side then the other. You’ll get used to it soon enough. It’s easy.’ Her tone wasn’t unfriendly, but it wasn’t too cheery either, and Jess could tell she didn’t really want her there, but was trying to make an effort for Casey’s sake.

Casey was Jess’s little sister and she lived with Uncle Tim and Aunt Jean up here in the middle of the Scottish wilderness, having moved up a few months ago after Dad had died. They weren’t real sisters. Jess had been fostered, then adopted, aged seven, by the couple she came to know as Mum and Dad, when they didn’t think they could have children of their own. Then, less than a year later, Casey had turned up. By rights, Jess should have been jealous, but from the start she’d adored her little sister, and felt hugely protective of her, a feeling that had grown even stronger when first Mum, then Dad, had died.

The whole reason Jess had come up here from London was to see Casey and make sure she was settling in okay. And to be fair, it seemed she was. Unlike Jess herself, Casey was really excited about this canoeing trip, and she jumped into the front of the other canoe, taking her paddle excitedly from the old guy, while Uncle Tim got in the back.

The old guy grinned at Casey, his eyes twinkling. It was, Jess thought, the same old story. Everyone fell in love with Casey. She was just that kind of girl. She was blonde, bubbly, with a sweet cherubic face, a cute button nose, and a lively personality, but also enough smarts to know how to get round people, and make them do what she wanted without them realizing they were doing it. Although more than seven years separated them, Jess had always grown up in her shadow. Sometimes it surprised her that she wasn’t more envious of Casey, but only a few times had the fact that her sister got all the attention ever irritated her, and in truth, she loved her sister just as everyone else did. And now, with Dad gone, Casey was all she had left.

‘Okay, you’ve got my phone number,’ said the old guy, standing above them. ‘The mobile reception’s patchy along the river, but you’ll be able to get it in parts. The river’s running pretty slow at the moment, so you shouldn’t run into any problems but, if you do, just give us a call. Otherwise, we’ll meet you at the bridge near Tayleigh at five o’clock. That should give you plenty of time.’

Five o’clock? That was almost four hours away and Jess felt her heart sink. There were a hundred things she’d rather be doing than this. When she’d come up, she’d envisaged taking Casey shopping in Inverness, not hauling ass down some Godforsaken river in the back of beyond.

‘Have you got everything, Tim?’ yelled Aunt Jean from behind her, her voice loud in Jess’s ear.

Tim patted the rucksack beside him. ‘Food, drink, the lot,’ he replied, sounding as excited as Casey. ‘Are we all ready?’

‘I’m ready,’ shouted Casey, lifting the paddle above her head, two-handed, making the old guy laugh.

‘You’re going to have a great time, wee lassie,’ he told her, and gave their canoe a push so it drifted into the deeper water. ‘And you will too, lassie, if you let yourself,’ he said to Jess.

‘She’s from London,’ said Jean, as if this explained everything. ‘She’s not used to the great outdoors.’

‘I’ll be fine,’ said Jess wearily, forcing a smile as she sank her paddle in the water, while the old guy gave their canoe a push and they drifted slowly out onto the river.

And right into the beginning of a nightmare.


20 days ago

MIKE BOLT WAS dreaming about his dead wife.

It was something he did more and more these days. The fact was he’d pretty much deified her. In death, she could do no wrong, which was why he’d never been able to hold down a serious relationship in the almost ten years since she’d passed away. He’d been engaged a couple of years back for a while to a CPS lawyer called Claire. He’d even moved her in to his place in Clerkenwell, and for a while he’d thought that she might finally be the one to get him over Mikaela. But in the end it hadn’t worked either. Claire did things that irritated him, things that Mikaela would never have done. She talked about her work all the time; she obsessed about her weight and kept going on strange, masochistic diets; and she didn’t like children. Bolt wasn’t a huge fan of kids either, but Mikaela had been, and she’d also been two months pregnant when she’d died. So, as far as Bolt was concerned, it reflected badly on Claire, and was yet another reason to end his relationship with her.

Since Claire had gone, Bolt had had a couple of other flings, including a recent one with a former colleague of his, Tina Boyd, which had been doomed from the start (Tina was far too much of a handful for him, and probably any man), but for the last few months he’d been resolutely single, giving him ample opportunity to fixate on Mikaela – something that he’d lost no time in doing.

In this particular dream Bolt was having, he and Mikaela were riding horses across a long lonely stretch of beach somewhere in France. Mikaela’s horse was galloping away into the distance, and looked to Bolt to be out of control, but Mikaela didn’t seem to care. The wind was blowing through her long blonde hair and he could hear her laughter fading away as she got further and further from his horse, which refused to go any faster than at a gentle trot even though he was yelling at it to get a move on. And then, as he watched, Mikaela disappeared from view altogether.

Which was the moment the windswept beach began to fade as an incessant ringing in his head drowned out everything else.

Bolt’s eyes snapped open and he sat up in the bed. His mobile was vibrating and bouncing round the bedside table. The clock said 05.46. As he reached over to pick up the phone, he paused to look at the photo of him and Mikaela that stood next to it. It was a shot from their holiday in Corfu two summers before she died, both of them tanned and grinning at the camera. Whenever he was in a relationship, Bolt would hide the photo away, sneaking only the occasional peek at it, but the moment he was single, it would be back on the bedside table so that he could wake up every morning to his memories. He knew it was bad for him to dwell as much as he did, but he seemed incapable of doing anything about it. Emotionally, he was trapped in a past that had ended almost a decade earlier, and the sad thing was, he probably always would be. Only one thing kept his mind off Mikaela, and that was work.

And it was work calling him now. Specifically, his long-time colleague, Mo Khan. And, even before he picked up the phone, Bolt knew what it was going to be about, because there’d only be one reason why Mo would be phoning at this time in the morning, although he hoped to God he was wrong.

Yawning, he pressed the Call Receive button. ‘You woke me from a beautiful dream.’

‘I’m truly sorry about that, boss, but right now that’s the least of our problems.’

Bolt felt his heart sink. ‘There’s been another one, hasn’t there?’

‘It looks that way. I’ve just had a call from a DCI Matt Black of Thames Valley CID. They’ve got a murder scene up in some woods between Reading and Basingstoke. A home invasion. Two dead, one injured. They think it might be the work of The Disciple.’

‘That’s three casualties. He usually only targets couples.’

‘It looks like he attacked the husband and his mistress, and the wife turned up and disturbed him. She made a dash for it, and although she got cut up a bit, and almost got hit by a car while she was running, she’s conscious.’

‘Is there anything specific that makes Thames Valley think it’s The Disciple?’

‘The MO’s definitely his, boss. No question about it.’

Bolt sighed and got out of bed, looking for some clean clothes. ‘Christ, this is all we need. The pressure’s going to be even more intense now. Who’s driving, me or you?’

‘I’m just about to get in my car now. I’ll be with you in twenty. You can sleep on the way down, have some more beautiful dreams.’

Bolt grunted. ‘Somehow I doubt it.’


FOR THE LAST fifteen months, a brutal serial killer dubbed The Disciple had kept the south of England in the grip of fear, and the media in the grip of excitement. Before the previous night’s attack, he’d committed six murders in three previous incidents. His modus operandi was always the same. He picked isolated detached properties occupied by professional couples, all of which so far had been to the west of London. He would break in at night, disable the male partner with a non-fatal stab wound to the leg, before overpowering and binding the female partner. He’d then torture and sexually assault the woman, and on one occasion the man as well, before finally killing them both with a knife, using their blood to daub Satanic signs on the walls of the room in which he carried out the attacks. On each occasion the left-hand little finger of the female victim had been cut off, and was subsequently missing from the crime scene, suggesting The Disciple was taking them as trophies.

Bolt had been brought in to lead the inquiry four months earlier, after the previous senior investigating officer – a good solid cop called Mason, whom Bolt had met a couple of times before – had had a massive heart attack and dropped dead. That should have told Bolt everything he needed to know about this case. It was a nightmare for any SIO. Not only was the pressure for a result enormous, and seemingly continuously building, but leads on the ground were desperately scarce. The Disciple might have been a sick, deranged individual, but he was also clever enough not to leave any DNA behind at the scene of his crimes. So far, the only possible clue they had to his identity was a witness description of a man in dark clothing and a woollen cap seen by a male dog walker hanging round near the house of the final two victims the day before they were killed. The description of the man himself was fairly basic – tall, well-built, somewhere in his thirties – but the witness had noticed a dark green tattoo on his left forearm, where his sleeve had been rolled up. It wasn’t much to reassure an increasingly concerned public that they were making progress on the case, especially considering the number of detectives working on it, but Bolt had learned in more than twenty-five years as a police officer that sometimes you simply had to be patient and wait for the break, although in recent weeks he too had grown intensely frustrated with the lack of leads.