pointed. I put the bag down on the ground and stood next to it. I was still twenty yards or so from where he stood holding Sophie, the knife at her neck glinting in the sunlight.

“Now, go back to your car,” he said through the phone, even though I could hear him plainly without it.

“Let my wife walk away from you,” I said to him. “When she starts walking, I will walk away from the bag.”

“Mr. Talbot, you really have been watching too many spy films,” he said with a laugh.

It may have amused him to think that we were taking part in a spy movie, but I didn’t feel at all like laughing. Not with my humble TV remote control acting the part of an electronic microcoder/chip writer and a bag of simple rice grains appearing as some programmable RFIDs. And certainly not when my wife’s life might depend on them remembering their lines.

“Let my wife go,” I said firmly to him, “and then these are yours.” I pointed down at the bag.

The recovery of the items must have become an obsession with him. He looked over longingly at the shopping bag. He removed the knife from Sophie’s throat and gently pushed her away from him towards my car. I let her go a few strides, just enough to be out of his reach, and then I started moving slowly backwards towards the Volvo, watching Kipper intently for any sudden movements.

He walked around the front of his car and started towards the bag.

Sophie was now about halfway to my car, but she wasn’t going anywhere near fast enough to my liking. Her face showed relief at being away from Kipper’s grasp, but she clearly didn’t fully realize the ongoing danger of the situation.

It would have been nice to have had the time to allow Sophie to climb gently into the passenger seat, but Kipper was almost at the bag, and a single glance would enlighten him instantly that my kitchen television remote control was not the microcoder/chip writer he was expecting.

“Sophie, run,” I shouted at her urgently. At the same time, I sprinted for the Volvo and opened the rear door. Sophie ran towards me. I took a couple of strides forward, grabbed her and literally threw her across the backseat. I slammed the back door and was in the car almost before Kipper realized he’d been fooled. I tossed my phone over onto the passenger seat as I slammed the driver’s door shut and locked it

The first part of the scheme had gone exactly to plan. Now all I had to do was get Sophie and me safely away. I started the engine, threw the car into gear and shot past Kipper’s silver hatchback with my back wheels spinning on the loose surface.

I could see him shouting something at me, but I couldn’t hear what it was, and I didn’t care. He ran over to his car, and, all too soon, the silver hatchback appeared large in my rearview mirror as I waited at the junction with Birmingham Road for a gap in the traffic. He came right up behind me at speed and rammed the Volvo forwards, right out into the path of a speeding white van.

I closed my eyes and waited for the crash, but somehow the van driver managed to avoid the collision by swerving around me with a squeal of his tires and a blast of his horn. It didn’t seem to me that he had braked one little bit as he sped away towards the A46 roundabout.

Sophie was lying full-length across the backseat where I had thrown her, still with a black plastic tie binding her hands behind her back. “Ned, what’s happening?” Her voice was remarkably calm and collected for someone who had just had a knife at her throat. Where, I thought, was the expected panic?

The answer was that the panic was up here in front, with me.


I suppose if one had to be involved in an impromptu stock-car race along the highways and byways of Warwickshire, an old Volvo 940 2.3-liter turbocharged station wagon might actually be one’s car of choice. In their prime, they hadn’t been nicknamed the “Volvo Tank” for nothing.

At the A46 junction, I debated with myself which way to go. Kipper, in his silver hatchback, was right up against my tailgate, and I could feel the Volvo lurch every time he hit me. If I went down towards the M40, I would have to deal with the traffic lights at the motorway junction. Equally, if I went straight on the A425, towards Birmingham, there were traffic lights within a few hundred yards. So I decided to turn right onto the A46, back towards Kenilworth and Coventry.

I swept onto the roundabout so fast that my mobile phone slid off the passenger seat and down the gap between it and the door. Sod it, I thought. I’d wanted to call the police, but I would have had to stop the car to retrieve the phone from down there. And, at the moment, stopping was completely out of the question.

Kipper kept darting back and forth around the rear of the Volvo like an annoying insect. Twice he gave me such a big nudge that I feared I would lose control completely, and my car was still fishtailing badly as it sped down the on-ramp and onto the A46 divided highway.

In spite of being thrown around by the constant lurching of the car, Sophie had managed to get herself into a fairly upright position on the backseat. I smiled at her in the rearview mirror. She looked back at me with wide, frightened eyes.

“Can you untie me?” she asked.

“Not just at the moment, my darling. I need both hands to drive.”

The car lurched as it was struck again by the hatchback. Sophie lay back down on the seat.

Fortunately, the A46 was quite empty at that time of the evening, and I was able to put my foot down on the gas. The Volvo’s speedometer climbed to well over ninety miles per hour, but still I couldn’t get away from Kipper’s car, which seemed to be stuck to me like a limpet. Twice he tried to get alongside, but both times I swerved to cut him off, forcing him back. The road was only two lanes wide each way at this point, but I knew that it went to three after the next junction. Keeping him back, then, would not be so easy.

What I needed was a police car, but, of course, there wasn’t one to be seen.

Our two cars raced along the road together towards the junction. At the very last moment, I jerked the steering wheel to the left and went across the white-painted hatching on the road and up the off-ramp, hoping that Kipper wouldn’t be able to make the turn. Sadly, he was able to follow, slowing only momentarily to cross the grass verge, which sent up a shower of earth and stones.

I shot up the ramp to the roundabout at the top of the rise. I hoped that nothing was coming around it, for I wasn’t about to slow down. My tires squealed in objection as I took the first exit along the country road towards the village of Leek Wooton. It was a two-lane road, so I now had to cope with the oncoming traffic as well as trying to keep Kipper behind me.

I thought the best plan was to drive to the nearest police station and park right outside the door. Surely, even shifty-eyed Kipper wouldn’t be crazy enough to try anything there. The only police station that I knew well was in Kenilworth because I’d had to go there a couple of times to show them my driving documents. But I also knew it was a very small office and that it didn’t operate around the clock. Would it still be open at this time of the evening? I assumed there also must be a police station in Warwick, and I was aware there was a large one in Leamington Spa, but I didn’t know exactly where, and I wasn’t about to ask a bystander for directions.

Kenilworth would have to do, I thought. Even if the police station was shut, it might still be enough to put Kipper off.

I tore down the road towards Leek Wooton with the silver hatchback seemingly glued to the back of my Volvo. At one point, he tried to overtake me, so I pulled right into the middle of the road, swerving back to my side only at the last second to avoid an oncoming truck whose driver was leaning heavily on his horn.

At the new roundabout outside the entrance to the Warwickshire Golf Club, I had to slow down slightly in order to make it around. Kipper in the hatchback, however, went the wrong way around the circle to try to get an advantage, and he almost made it as we emerged side by side. But he was now on the wrong side of the road. I squeezed him over yet farther until his wheels were almost on the grass, but still he wouldn’t give up. I looked across at him and I swear he was laughing at me. Finally, an oncoming car forced him to brake and fall in once more behind me.

I ignored the thirty-miles-per-hour signs at the entrance to the village, hoping desperately that a child didn’t step out into my path. At more than double the speed limit, I would have had no chance to stop in time.

I realized that I didn’t even have my seat belt on, so I reached up behind me for it and clicked its buckle into

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