window, shuttered. Old, tatty blue sofa to my left, sideboard to my right. Lying on the sideboard was a big hunting knife, its razor sharp edge glinting at me like a promise. The handy cam was shiny and new, like it was fresh out of the box. Behind it there was a metal frame chair with canvas seat and back, the same as the one I now occupied. Next to that was an old coffee table on which were piled small video tapes. The last thing I noticed, which made the panic rise again, was the dark red stain on the floor, which formed a semi circle around my feet. There was a splash of the same stain across the floor in a straight line and on to the wall beside the sofa. That would be the first gush of arterial blood from the last poor bastard who'd sat in this chair.

I remembered the siege of St Mark's, two months earlier; walking into the Blood Hunters' camp, all cocky bravado, baiting the madman in his lair. I remembered the plan going horribly wrong, and the moment when they forced me to kill one of my own men. I remembered holding the knife as I slit Heathcote's throat, and felt the blood bubble and gush over my hands as I whispered pleas for forgiveness into the ear of my dying friend. I remembered the hollow ache that had sat in my stomach as I'd done that awful thing, the ache that had never left me, which still jolted me awake most nights, sweating and crying, reliving his murder over and over. He had not died easily or well. When the siege was over, and the school was a smoking ruin, I had found Heathcote's body in amongst the mass of slaughtered, and dug his grave myself. I had broken my arm so it took me two days, but I wouldn't let anyone else lift a shovel to help me.

It was as I placed the plain white cross on his grave that I realised I could not stay. All my decisions, all my plots and schemes and plans had just brought the school to ruin. It would be better for everyone if I left Matron in charge and gave the school a fresh start. I was cursed. I stayed long enough to heal the arm, and then I just walked away.

Dad hadn't shown up, and it had been nearly a year. Time for me to come good on my promise. Time to fly to Iraq and find out what had become of him. I had little expectation that he was still alive, but I had to try. I had to have something to keep going for, to stop me just ending it all. So I found myself a little Grob Tutor plane, the one I'd been taught to fly by the RAF contingent of the school's County Cadet Force, plotted a route via various RAF bases where I thought I'd be able to find fuel, and set off.

All that distance from Heathcote's grave, all that effort just to put myself in a place where I could suffer exactly the same fate. It seemed only fair. Inevitable, even.

'Poetic justice, Nine Lives,' said the voice in my head. I couldn't really argue with that.

I heard footsteps approaching and low, murmuring voices. The door opened and two men stepped inside. They wore khaki jackets and trousers with tatty, worn out trainers. Both had their faces swathed in cloth, with only their dark eyes visible. They stopped talking and stood in the doorway for a moment, just staring at me. Not long ago I'd have wracked my brain for a quip or putdown, but there'd come a point some months back where I'd heard myself saying something flippant to a psychopath and I'd realised that it didn't make me cool; it just made me sound like an immature dick who'd seen too many bad action movies. So I just told the truth.

'I have no idea who you think I am,' I said, trying to keep my voice level. 'But I'm not your enemy.'

They ignored me. The taller one moved to the handy cam and hunched over it, preparing to record. I wondered how he'd charged the battery. The shorter one checked the sheet behind me before picking up the knife and taking his place at my side, still and silent like a sentry.

'I'm just a boy from England looking for my dad,' I went on hopelessly. 'Just let me find him and I'll fuck off out of it, back home. I promise.'

No response, just a red light on the handy cam, and the whirr of tiny motors as it opened to receive the tape.

Of course, it could be that they didn't even speak English.

'Look, there's no media any more anyway. There's no Internet or telly. So what's the point of cutting my head off on video? Who's going to see it?' I thought this was a pretty good point, but they didn't seem to care.

The cameraman slid the tape into place and snapped the handy cam closed. A moment's pause, then he nodded to his companion.

I tried to calm my nerves, tell myself that I'd been in situations like this before, that there was still a way out. But no-one knew I was here. There were no friends looking for me, no Matron to come riding to my rescue. I was thousands of miles from home, in a country where I couldn't make myself understood, and I was about to be executed as part of a war that was long since over.

I supposed it made as much sense as any other violent death.

I felt a tear trickle down my cheek, but I refused to give them the satisfaction of sobbing. The weird thing is, I wasn't sad for myself. I'd faced death many times, and I'd got to know this feeling pretty well. I was ready for it. I just felt guilty about my dad. He'd never know what had happened to me after that phone call. I'd been looking forward to that conversation. I missed him.

The man standing beside me began to talk to the camera in Arabic. I made out occasional words (Yankee, martyr) but that was all. At one point I gabbled an explanation to the camera, drowning out his monologue. At least that way anyone watching it would know who I was. I had no idea where this video would end up so it was worth a shot, I supposed. Nothing else I could do.

'My name is Lee Keegan,' I shouted. 'It's my sixteenth birthday today, and I'm English. I flew here to find my dad, a Sergeant in the British Army, but my plane crashed and these guys found me. If anyone sees this, please let Jane Crowther know what happened to me. You can find her at Groombridge Place, in Kent, southern England. It's a school now. Tell her I'm sorry.'

The guy with the knife punched me hard in the side of the head to shut me up. He finished his little speech and then there was silence, except for the soft whirr of tiny motors.

I stared straight into the camera lens, tears streaming down my face. I clenched my jaw, tried to look defiant. I probably looked like what I was: a weeping, terrified child.

I felt cold, sharp metal at my throat.

Then the guy behind the camera stood up straight, unwrapped his face and took off his jacket, revealing a t- shirt that read 'Code Monkey like you!'

'Hang on,' he said. 'Did you say your name was Keegan?'

And that's how I met Tariq.

Chapter Two

I didn't follow the war in Iraq as closely as I should have.

You'd think that, with my dad on the front line, I'd have been watching and reading everything I could. But there was never any good news. It was all doom and gloom; insurgents, roadside bombs and body counts. It gave me nightmares to think of my dad in the middle of all that. So I stopped reading, listening and watching. I didn't want to know.

I knew the general details – Dad was in Basra, a coastal town important to oil supplies; things there weren't as bad as they were further north, where the Americans were in charge; the British troops didn't have the right equipment, or enough equipment, or any equipment at all, depending upon whether you watched the BBC, Sky News or Al Jazeera.

The only thing I knew for sure was that he was somewhere dangerous and there were people who wanted to kill him. Beyond that, I didn't ask.

But then, as Mum pointed out, that was his job. He was a soldier. He put himself in harm's way to pay for our food and clothes, the roof over our heads and the education that would ensure I never had to risk my life the way he did.

I knew that her family paid for my schooling, not Dad, but I understood what she meant, so I just nodded. She knew how I felt, anyway; she was the daughter of a military man herself.

'John Keegan's son?'

He knew my dad. Oh God, maybe he'd already sat in this chair. Maybe that was his blood on the floor. My eyes went wide and I couldn't speak.

The young man stepped out from behind the camera. 'Answer the question will you. Oh shit, he's going to…'

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