the motor in Kent. The DNA in the saliva had done him for a fourteen-year stretch. Robbie Cairns thought that only an idiot would have done what his father had, then gone running towards the cash wagon.

He knew more than most about DNA. Robbie Cairns knew that DNA stood for deoxyribonucleic acid, and he knew there was plenty in spit. Down the road from where he lived, in Bermondsey, DNA had done for a hit team. They’d taken a thirty-thousand-pound contract to shoot a guy who had ‘lost’ big money from a robbery he was minding. Shots to the head as the target opened up his courier business at dawn. The DNA had been on spectacles dropped by one of the team, on the filter tip of a cigarette smoked as they waited for the guy to turn up, and on the casing of a security camera they’d climbed up to shift so that they wouldn’t be on film when they moved in. And they’d used a mobile on the scene when they were looking the place over. He didn’t like people being stupid and had told his dad, Jerry, so to his face.

He watched Johnny ‘Cross Lamps’ Wilson punch the keypad, disappear inside, and the gate closing. Next time, Robbie would have a converted Baikal IZH-79 tucked into his waistband where his right hand, easily, could reach it. It had been manufactured, Robbie knew, in the Russian city of Izhevsk and built to fire tear-gas pellets. There, it had a street price of maybe thirty euros. It would have gone overland to Lithuania, a bulk order, and in the capital it would have been modified to fire live bullets, not pellets, and now it had a street value, Vilnius prices, of around a hundred and fifty euros. By the time the weapon had reached London, the value of the pistol manufactured on a production line at a huge plant like the Izhevsky Mekhanichesky Zavod – where they made the AK-47, the Kalashnikov – would have soared into the skies. For it to fire 9mm bullets and have the engineering work done, a threaded end that enabled it to be fitted with a silencer, the buyer must pay fifteen hundred euros. Robbie Cairns had had cash in hand, no names, a test firing of two bullets out on the Rainham marshes. He never used the same weapon twice. If he thought his track was covered, he’d sell it on. If not, it was dumped. Three handguns had been sold and five thrown into deep water off the Queen Elizabeth Bridge, downriver and out to the estuary.

He peeled away, went back down the street, past the newsagent and the cafe. He had seen enough. There was a walkway towards the supermarket car park and he headed into it. Four or five kids advanced towards him, walking abreast and just about filling the space. Robbie Cairns didn’t back off. He might have eased his arse against the graffiti-painted wall, dragged his stomach in and allowed the kids to pass him. He might, many would, have ducked his head, like a dog, and seem to apologise for blocking the kids, making them shift their formation. Two were black and three were either North African or Somali, and the chance was that at least some would have short-bladed knives. He did not back off. He did not make way for them. He did not offer any apology for inconveniencing them. Never crossed his mind that he should. He walked towards them, and they parted to made way for him. It was his presence. It was the roll of his gait, and the confidence of his mouth, jaw, eyes. He had not disrespected them, but they would have had a good enough look at him to realise it was sensible to give him his space. As they did so, he smiled to left and right.

His brother would have seen him come into the car park, slide the shades over his eyes and use his fingers casually to flick the hood over his head. All the big car parks had cameras. He walked the last paces with a limp and slumped shoulders.

It was Vern’s responsibility to look after the vehicle logistics: which lock-up garage and under which railway arch for the storage of a motor, and where to collect a new one, clean. That was what Vern did. The brothers didn’t entertain small-talk.

‘You know when you’ll go?’ Vern asked.

‘Same time tomorrow. We’ll go tomorrow.’ Robbie Cairns said where, when they were back over the river, he should be dropped off. He would do it tomorrow, and his grandfather would invoice the people who had bought the hit. Tomorrow would be another day at work for Robbie Cairns.

A quiet day. Would have been pleasant if the air-conditioning had not chosen it, the hottest of the month, to cough, rattle and ultimately go down. Fixing the central heating in mid-winter or the air-conditioning in high summer was a complex matter.

The teams worked out of three partitioned areas – plywood and frosted glass – and each owned sufficient wall space to display mug shots, surveillance photographs, operational maps, satellite images of properties. Bizarre, but in electronic days they still hankered after good old bits of paper and seriously vintage-style images. It was as if this corner of Serious Crime Directorate 7 couldn’t operate unless it was all there and tacked to a wall; screens were for kids.

A complex matter? Of course. Because SCD7 did not employ heating engineers, plumbers, electricians. The people who came to the building for maintenance were vetted after a fashion but weren’t chained in by the Official Secrets Act. Fixing the air-conditioner unit that made an interior working day bearable would necessitate stripping out, sanitising, the areas of all three teams. And, exacerbating the problem, not one window opened. Electric fans riffled papers but distributed no cool air between the partitions.

A quiet day. Expenses day. Time-sheets and overtime-dockets day. A day for writing up a search report with results, and another on the value of a Covert Human Intelligence Source. Mark Roscoe thought it a good day, but quiet, calm, civilised days had a way of kicking them in the teeth without warning. Actually, he’d done well and the paper mountain was shrinking ahead of and rising behind him. They were all the same on a quiet day: they beavered at the paper – time was seldom on their side.

It was the way of Mark Roscoe, his Bill and his Suzie, to value time away from the coal face. Most of the targets they sought to save were the god-awful people who organised the big cocaine shipments, kept a main residence at Puerto Banus – Costa del Sol – fell out with a dealer or a supplier and owed, maybe, a million sterling. Then word came in that the aggrieved party was not going to the High Court for justice but was hiring a gun. Couldn’t be allowed to happen; duty of care, and all the horse shit from the European Court of Human Rights. Had to jump through the hoops, do their damnedest to prevent blood, tissue, brains scattering across a London pavement. Mark Roscoe thought, was near certain, that Bill was asleep at his desk space on the far side of the cubicle area, and Suzie’s head was rocking.

At another south-west area command police station, detectives were grilling the tenant of the house searched – Roscoe wasn’t big on liberal tendencies, but while ‘grilling’ was acceptable, ‘stitching up’ was not. His dad had been a detective in the days of black eyes and facial abrasions when the accused regularly walked into doors and conveniently fell downstairs in the cell block. His father didn’t like to talk of those days, as if he was ashamed of them. He had turned his back on thirty-seven years’ service, sold up the west London family home and disappeared to the Lake District. When the tenant had been grilled, when names were on the tapes, the interrogation would begin: who was the hitman? Who paid the hitman? Who was the hitman’s target? Who did the collection and who did the drop off? He didn’t quiz his father about the ‘old days’ of policing London, but had he done so, and had he suggested to his father that it was interesting to be involved in the protection of organised players, serious players, keeping them off the mortuary slabs, the veins would have jumped on his father’s temples, his cheeks would have gone puce, his breathing would have quickened and his eyes narrowed: ‘Best thing for those animals is bad on bad, the more the better. Best place for them is in a box and going down under.’ Rare enough for Roscoe to make the long journey north, and not right that, when he did, their time should be spent bickering. Enough to say that the major work of his squad was protection of men he despised.

It was sensible to let a day go slack when little jumped in his face. Wouldn’t last – could have bet his shirt on it. The information might come from a chis, or from an undercover officer, even a member of the public – an innocent who had seen or heard something and picked up the phone – or from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, or the spooks, or even from the listening superstars at GCHQ. When things moved, and the alarm bells clanged, it was usually at speed and without warning, what he called ‘straight out of a clear blue sky’, the worst sort of sky.

A man wasn’t going to be brought in to fix the air-conditioner because nobody would take responsibility to strip down the walls. Looking between the slats of the blinds, Mark Roscoe could see the great emptiness he loathed above the rooftops: the clear blue sky.

A police patrol car was parked back from the field as if to give space around the raised arm. A priest had come from Vukovar at the same time and his car was further down the Cornfield Road. Any of the villagers, or those who had lived in Bogdanovci or Marinci, or men and women of Croat origin from Vukovar, could tell which of the policemen was from their own ethnicity and which the Serb. Always now, in the police, a Croat and a Serb officer were together. Petar could tell which was the Serb because he had stayed in the patrol car, was reading a newspaper and did not make eye contact with the villagers. Perhaps he had an elder brother, a father or an uncle who had been here nineteen years before and… The priest moved among them and, in an officious way, tried to

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