ground where he had roots, Cairns family territory. He would do one more trip to the north London patch, and watch again. If nothing showed to concern him, he would fulfil the contract in two days or three.

The sun cooked them in the car.

‘Ready, Delta Four?’

It was one of the moments Mark Roscoe lived for, why he had joined the police service. They didn’t come often enough and had to be savoured. Yesterday he had endured his regular duties and yearned for the raw excitement he felt now. Yesterday he had examined the hot-water boiler of a housing-authority maisonette and decided that it needed a plumber. The property was a safe-house and was occupied by a low-life villain and his mistress, moved there by Roscoe’s unit. It was hoped he was beyond the reach of a hitman. A prison cell would have been more appropriate for the villain, but there was insufficient evidence to put him away so he was under protection because he was owed the same degree of security as any other citizen. Yesterday Roscoe had realised the villain regarded him as a friend, would probably have made the mistress available, and was seriously grateful for the care taken to keep him alive. He had fallen out with a former partner and the hit had been paid for. Yesterday had been slow and frustrating, and the detail of it stuck in his throat. Today had the prospect of being special.

‘Ready, Bravo One.’

He had always felt the call-sign stuff was ‘cavalry and Indians’, what he might have been doing as a ten- year-old in the park close to where he had lived, but in the service it was the drill, the form, and damn near a capital offence to ignore it.

The command was shrieked in the earpiece: ‘Go! Go! Go!’

He was first out of the back of the van – fit and well capable of athleticism even after four hours and nine minutes inside the back of the steel-sided, windowless vehicle. As his shoes hit the concrete he regretted that he hadn’t crawled behind the curtain to use the bucket. He was armed but his Glock stayed in the pancake holster at his waist and there would be guys from the CO19 crowd – firearms specialists, the prima donna blokes and birds who strutted the walk when they’d a machine pistol or a handgun readied – out in front by a few paces, two big men carrying the short-arm battering-ram that delivered some ten tonnes of kinetic energy when swung by an expert. Amazing thing, science, and Serious Crime Directorate 7 was issued with most of the high-fly kit.

Forgetting his need for the bucket, feeling the blast of heated air, hearing the wood of the front door splintering and groaning, Roscoe was almost deafened by the shouting of the rammers, the marksmen and a big dog barking fit to bust inside – the handler alongside the lead guns wore a padded jacket and mask as if he were bomb disposal. It was good clean fun, and what Mark Roscoe had joined for.

He was now a detective sergeant. He had little interest in community policing, less in administration and the policy/analysis papers, and none in involvement with community associations or schools liaison. He had consistently sidelined himself from the broad avenues to promotion. So, again needing a leak, but with his adrenalin surging, Roscoe joined the charge on the doorway of a pleasant-enough property in the suburbs to the south-west of London.

He could live with the crap of being Delta Four: the adrenalin was addictive.

Problem. The three-bedroom semi-detached mock-Tudor 1930s property was unoccupied but for a dog. Cause of problem: the unit of SCD7 had brilliant kit but had been unable to stitch together the necessary surveillance resources for full cover, and the watchers had not been in place for the previous eighteen hours. Result of problem: one hungry dog to confront, but no bad guys. He went inside, squeezed into the hallway, had to work his way past an armour-plated marksman. Roscoe could see into the kitchen and the dog, could have been a Rottweiler cross, was on its back. The first men in might have shot it, and had not. Instead they seemed to queue up to scratch its stomach. Roscoe had two people with him – Bill, from Yorkshire, and Suzie, from a floodplain in southwestern Bangladesh via east London. He led them into the back room. He could live with the problem of failing to get his hands on the bad guys if the search turned up platinum-scale material.

It was a house where gear was stored and had been fingered by a ‘chis’. Nobody liked a chis. A chis was bottom of the heap, but if the information of the Covert Human Intelligence Source delivered he would be tolerated. The chis had been about as specific as was possible. A cupboard in the back room alongside the bricked-up fireplace. A wood panel inside the cupboard that could be removed. Missing bricks in the party wall behind the panel. The room hadn’t any art on the walls, just a pair of Tenerife posters. The smell of dog mess was coming from the kitchen and the sound of the kettle. He, Bill and Suzie had on see-through gloves and the cupboard – where the chis had said it was – was open. The girl, inordinately proud to be a detective constable in SCD7, looked as though the weight of the hammer might snap her skeletal arm, but she insinuated herself past him, expelled him from the space and had the claw into the crack at the top edge of the panel. She grunted with the effort, and when the panel came away she cannoned back into Roscoe and he felt all of her against him – the bones and bumps – and Bill had a torch with the beam aimed into the recess.

It was bloody empty.

Mark Roscoe, detective sergeant of the Flying Squad – thief-takers with a reputation to sustain and a heritage of legendary successes – had called out a six-strong firearms team, who were a precious commodity and knew it, and had two of his own with him, plus uniforms in the street from the local station and the two with the battering-ram. He, Bill and Suzie had their heads crammed into a cupboard and a torch beam lit a hole in which a few spiders milled.

It had been his chis, Roscoe’s call. He was answerable to superiors when a foul-up smacked into his face. He could smell the understated scent that the girl had chosen to wear that morning, and he heard the Yorkshireman’s obscenity – no apology. There would be an inquest. The floorboard creaked under their combined weight as they manoeuvred clear. A meeting would be convened at which the reliability of the chis would be shredded, the absence of surveillance analysed and the bloody time and motion people would earn their corn. He pushed himself up. His own people were watching him, looking for leadership, and wore the solemn expressions that meant they had no wish to intrude into his grief. The firearms officers were at the door and in the hallway; most seemed to chew gum and had the look of men, women, whose burden was to walk alongside idiots.

He stood. He took his mobile from his pocket and was about to hit the keys. The board was below his feet and under the thin carpeting. Suzie’s tiny feet were on the same board, and Bill’s massive shoes. She started, Bill followed, like a shuffle dance. They eased weight from toes to heels and were looking at him. Was he an idiot? Slow on the uptake? He bent down, took a corner of the carpet and dragged it clear. It came too easily, and his heart was doing big drumbeats. The board had little scrape marks at the edges. She used the claw hammer, was crouched over the board, and heaved. It came up. Her eyes were wide with excitement, Bill’s tongue wetted his lips, and Mark Roscoe let loose a gasp. He waved one of the firearms crowd over to them and stood back.

Not an entirely wasted day. The weapons were individually checked for safe handling and the evidence bags spread out on the kitchen table. The expert reeled off a monotone identification of what they had. ‘One Beretta 9mm calibre automatic, one Ingram sub-machine pistol with silencer attached, one Colt. 25 pistol with silencer attached, one Walther PPK… An estimate, one hundred rounds for the Colt, one filled magazine for the Beretta, some fifty rounds for the Ingram. Two balaclava face masks. That’s about it, boss.’

Rather shyly, Suzie congratulated him. With a great clap on the back, Bill told him it was a ‘bloody top grade’ result, and he could see that he had won the respect of the firearms officer. Ridiculous, but it seemed to matter. The uniforms were told to get a roll of crime-scene tape round the front garden and down the shared drive to the garage. So, the Covert Human Intelligence Source had come up, bar a location error of a few miserable inches, as a star. Mark Roscoe would have the plaudits of his peers, and the chance of the house owner staying out of custody for more than a few hours was remote. A contract killer’s kit was bagged and would be photographed, and the rifling in the barrels of each weapon would go to the National Ballistics Intelligence System to be tracked against bullets gouged out of cadavers’ bodies. It was, indeed, a hell of a good result.

The unit that Mark Roscoe served with was one of the most secretive in the Metropolitan Police. It was charged with targeting the increasing threat in the capital city posed by well-rewarded and capable hired hitmen. He found a toilet upstairs, used it, flushed.

And the result would get better. In the garage they found a performance motorcycle, crash helmets and boiler suits that would, with the balaclavas, offer DNA traces. He called in, told his operational commander what they had found.

Another day done. It wasn’t about driving contract killers, hitmen, off the streets – or about destroying that culture of cheap killings. It was about holding a line.

They stopped at a fast-food joint and took away chicken pieces, fries and Coke. That part of the Flying Squad,

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