and her grin widened.

But then the lights reappeared in her mirror. The car had crept up even closer this time, its headlights on full beam, dazzling her. She slowed a little and moved aside to let it pass.

It didn’t. It just hung back, matching her speed. Irritably, she waved it on. It still hung there behind her. She could hear its engine over the whirr of the Suzuki.

OK, then, it was some arsehole who wanted to race. That was fine with her. She cracked open the throttle and accelerated hard through the bends, leaning the bike this way and that. The car followed. She pushed harder, widening the gap between them. But not for long. The car came right up behind, and for a terrifying instant she thought it was going to ram her.

Zoe’s heart was beating fast now, and suddenly the idea of racing along the dark empty road, with trees rushing by on either side, didn’t seem so much fun.

A farm lane flashed up on the right a little way ahead. She remembered where it led. She’d been walking down that way a couple of times. At the bottom of the lane was a gate that was always padlocked, barring the way – but between the gatepost and the crumbled stone wall there was a gap just big enough to get a bike through.

The Suzuki hammered down the farm lane, barely in control. The ground was little more than soft earth, loose under her wheels. She skidded and regained control. In the mirror, the lights were coming closer again.

What did they want?

The gate was coming up fast. Thirty yards. Twenty. She squeezed the brakes, wobbled, but hit the gap. The Suzuki scraped through with a grinding of plastic. The car skidded to a halt behind her, and suddenly she was leaving the lights behind again.

She whooped. She’d made it.

But then she looked back in the mirror and saw the figures in the lights of the stationary car. Figures running. Figures with guns.

There was a loud crack from behind her. She felt the machine judder violently. The rear tyre was blown.

She lost control of the bike, and suddenly it had slipped out from under her. She felt herself falling. The ground rushed up to meet her.

That was all Zoe Bradbury remembered for a long time.

Chapter Four

Thames Ditton, Surrey, England

The second day

The high gilded gates were open, and Ben Hope drove on through the archway. The private road carved its way through a long woodland tunnel, cool and verdant in the heat of the afternoon. Round a bend, the trees parted and he saw the late-Georgian country house in the distance, across sculpted lawns that looked like velvet. Gravel crunched under the tyres of the rented Audi Quattro as he pulled up in the car-park alongside the Bentleys and Rollses and Jaguars.

Stepping out of the car Ben straightened his tie and slipped on the jacket of the expensive suit he’d bought for the occasion and was pretty sure he’d never wear again. He could hear the sound of the big band drifting on the breeze. He followed the sound, cutting across the lawns towards the back of the house. The sweeping acres of the estate opened up in front of him.

Guests were clustered around a striped marquee on the lawn. Laughter and chatter. Long tables with canapes, waiters carrying trays of drinks. Women in summer dresses and big flowery hats. The wedding reception was a lot more opulent than Ben had expected.

Charlie had done well for himself, he thought. Not bad for the practical, down-to-earth Londoner who’d started out driving supply trucks with the Royal Engineers. He’d been in the service since leaving school. In 22 SAS he’d never gone higher than trooper. Never wanted to. His only ambition was to be the best. It was strange to imagine him marrying into wealth. Ben wondered if he’d be happy surrounded by all this.

Charlie and his new bride were among the dancing couples on the lawn. Ben smiled as he recognised him. He didn’t seem to have changed a lot, apart from the tuxedo. The band had struck up an old jazz number he vaguely remembered, Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman. Their trombones and saxes glittered in the sunshine.

Ben kept his distance, stood listening to the music and watching the people, taking in the scene. Thoughts came back to him of the day he’d got married, just a few months before. His hand instinctively went to the gold wedding ring that he wore on a thin leather thong around his neck. He fingered it through the cotton shirt, trying to stop the other memories that bubbled up, the bad ones, the ones of the day it had all ended.

For an instant he was there again, seeing it unfold. He blinked the images away, battled them back into the shadows. He knew they’d return.

The dance ended. There was applause and more laughter. Charlie spotted Ben and waved. He kissed his bride and she went off with a chattering bunch of friends towards the marquee as the band started up another number. Charlie trotted over to Ben, visibly buzzing with excitement, unable to repress the broad grin on his face.

‘You look a little different in that outfit,’ Ben said.

‘I didn’t think you’d come, sir. Glad you could make it. I’ve been calling you for days.’

‘I got your message,’ Ben said. ‘And it’s Ben, not sir.’

‘It’s good to see you, Ben.’

‘Good to see you too.’ Ben clapped Charlie affectionately on the shoulder.

‘So how’ve you been?’ Charlie asked. ‘How are things?’

‘It’s been a while,’ Ben replied, evading the question.

‘Five years, give or take.’

‘Congratulations on your marriage. I’m pleased for you.’

‘Thanks. We’re very happy.’

‘Nice place you’ve got here.’

‘This?’ Charlie swept his arm across the horizon, at the house and the neatly tended acres. ‘You must be kidding. This belongs to Rhonda’s folks. They’re the ones paying for this do. You know how it is – only daughter and all. A bit over the top, between us. All about flaunting their money. If it was up to Rhonda and me, it would have been the local registry office and then off to the nearest pub.’ He smiled warmly. ‘So what about you, Ben? Did you ever take the plunge?’

‘Plunge?’

‘You know – normal life, marriage, kids, all that kind of stuff.’

‘Oh.’ Ben hesitated. What the hell. There was no point pretending. ‘I did get married,’ he said quietly.

Charlie’s eyes lit up. ‘Great, man. Fantastic. When did that happen?’

Ben paused again. ‘January.’

Charlie looked around. ‘Have you brought her with you?’

‘She’s not here,’ Ben said.

‘That’s a real shame,’ Charlie said, disappointed. ‘I’d love to meet her.’

‘She’s gone,’ Ben said.

Charlie frowned, confused. ‘You mean she was here, but she left?’

‘No. I mean she’s dead.’ It came out more abruptly than Ben had meant. Still hard to say it.

Charlie blanched. He looked down at his feet and was quiet for a few seconds. ‘When?’ he breathed.

‘Five months ago. Not long after we married.’

‘Jesus. I don’t know what to say.’

‘You don’t have to say anything.’

‘How are you?’ Charlie said awkwardly. ‘I mean, how are you handling it?’

Ben shrugged. ‘I have good days and bad days.’ The cold touch of the Browning’s muzzle against his brow was still a fresh memory.

‘What happened?’ Charlie asked after another long silence.

Вы читаете The Doomsday Prophecy
Добавить отзыв
ВСЕ ОТЗЫВЫ О КНИГЕ В ИЗБРАННОЕ

0

Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату
×