“She’s here?”

“Downstairs. They were treating her for shock but she was checking herself out when I saw her. She was with Hennessy when she was killed. She was covered in her blood.”

“How come?”

Clutesi shrugged. “She was up in the stands when the SWAT sniper took Hennessy out.” Clutesi stood by the window. He slanted the blinds so that he could look down at the road below.

“That seems like a hell of a coincidence,” said Sanger.

Clutesi saw Kelly Armstrong leave the main entrance and walk purposefully down the road, her blonde hair swinging gently in the breeze. She was a real stunner, thought Clutesi, and from the way she swung her hips she knew it. There was something familiar about her, something that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He’d seen her before at the same angle, looking down at her from a window. Clutesi clasped a hand to the back of his neck. A bar. She’d been going into a bar and he’d been on surveillance. It came to him in a rush and he slapped his hand against his leg. “Now I remember!” he shouted.

The Colonel came wide awake, all his senses alert. He turned his head to look at the bedside clock. It was three o’clock in the morning. He lay back and listened, allowing his mind to roam among the rooms of his cottage, trying to find the source of the noise which had woken him. The Colonel was a light sleeper, but he was never disturbed by the sounds of the countryside: barking foxes, hunting owls or sheep kicking over rocks. It must have been something else.

His nearest neighbours were a mile away, a working farm owned by a former Merchant Navy captain, and it wasn’t unusual to hear tractors starting up at first light. But it was still dark outside, and if it had been a tractor or any other sort of vehicle, he’d have heard the sound for some time.

The Colonel sat up slowly. He slept naked and the sheets whispered as they slid down his chest. The road which led to his cottage was dotted with potholes and it was impossible for anyone to drive down without the vehicle rattling and banging. And for twenty feet around his cottage there was a layer of gravel chippings, several inches deep. It was impossible to approach the dwelling silently.

The house seemed silent. On the Colonel’s right was an electronic panel linked to a security system which covered every door and window in the house, and which was connected to pressure sensors embedded in the road and at various key points in the garden. All the lights on the display glowed red, none was flashing. If any of the alarms were triggered, the system would automatically call his local police station and the police would arrive within eight minutes. Under normal circumstances the Colonel would have put it down to an unremembered nightmare, but something felt wrong. His insides were tight as if his body knew something that his mind didn’t, and over the years he’d learned to trust his instincts. He twisted to the left and opened a drawer in his bedside table, where he kept a loaded Browning Hi-Power 9 mm automatic.

He slid out of the bed, switched off the gun’s safety, and took a blue silk dressing gown from a hook on the back of the door. He pressed his ear to the door jamb and listened. Nothing. He eased the door open and slipped into the corridor, his nerves on edge. He kept close to the wall and tip-toed to the top of the stairs, keeping his left hand flat against the plaster, feeling his way.

He peered down the stairs into the gloom at the bottom of the hall, moving his head slowly from side to side to utilise peripheral vision as much as possible. With infinite patience he made his way down the stairs, keeping close to the wall and taking one step at a time so that the wood wouldn’t betray him by squeaking. It had been more than fifteen minutes since he had woken up but still he had heard nothing other than his own footsteps.

Five doors led off the hallway at the bottom: to his study, the sitting room, a closet, the kitchen, and the main front door. The only one which was ajar was the door to the sitting room. He padded past the hall table and stood by the open door. If there was an intruder behind it, he would be at his most vulnerable when he stepped across the threshold. He listened intently, his head slightly down, focusing every fibre of his being on the room beyond the door. He heard a noise, a knocking sound like a foot brushing wood, from the far side of the study, close to the window. He raised the Browning, pushed open the door, and moved quickly inside, taking aim at the corner where he’d heard the noise.

There was no one there. His heart fell as he saw the single white knight lying in the corner where it had been thrown. He began to turn, but before he could move, the barrel of a gun was jammed against his neck and a hand clamped down over the Browning.

“Careless, Colonel,” said a voice by his left ear.

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