Then silence.

He pressed the talk button. 'Hello?'

Just empty static came back at him.

'Hello? Hey guys!'

Still nothing. He focused his eyes on the two-way radio. It was a stubby-looking thing, a hard, black plastic casing, with one short aerial and one longer one, the name 'Motorola' embossed over the speaker grille. There was also an on-off switch, a volume control, a channel selector, and a tiny pinhead of a green light that was glowing brightly. Then he stared at the white satin that was inches from his eyes, fighting panic, starting to breathe faster and faster. He needed to pee, badly, going on desperately.

Where the hell was he? Where were Josh, Luke, Pete, Robbo? Standing around, giggling? Had the bastards really gone off to a club?

Then his panic subsided as the alcohol kicked back in again. His thoughts became leaden, muddled. His eyes closed and he was almost suckered into sleep.

Opening his eyes, the satin blurred into soft focus, as a roller wave of nausea suddenly swelled up inside him, threw him up in the air then dropped him down. Up again. Down again. He swallowed, closed his eye again, giddily, feeling the coffin drifting, swaying from side to side, floating. The need to pee was receding. Suddenly the nausea wasn't so bad any more. It was snug in here. Floating. Like being in a big bed!

His eyes closed and he sank like a stone into sleep.


Roy Grace sat in the dark, in his ageing Alfa Romeo in the line of stationary traffic, rain drumming the roof, his fingers drumming the wlmel, barely listening to the Dido CD that was playing. He felt tense. Impatient. Gloomy. He felt like shit. Tomorrow he was due to appear in court, and he knew he was in (rouble. He took a swig of bottled Evian water, replaced the cap and jammed the bottle back in the door pocket. 'Come on, come on!' he said, fingers tapping again, harder now. He was already forty minutes late for his date. He hated being late, always felt it was a sign of rudeness, as if you were making the statement, my time's more important than yours, so I can keep you waiting... If he had left the office just one minute sooner he wouldn't have been late: someone else would have taken the call and the ram-raid on a jewellery shop in Brighton, by two punks who were high on (iod- knows-what, would have been a colleague's problem, not his. That was one of the occupational hazards of police work - villains didn't have the courtesy to keep to office hours. He should not be going out tonight, he knew. Should have stayed home, preparing himself for tomorrow. Tugging out the bottle, he drank some more water. His mouth was dry, parched. Leaden butterflies flip-flopped in his belly. Friends had pushed him into a handful of blind dates over the past few years, and each time he'd been a bag of nerves before he'd shown up. The nerves were even worse tonight, and, not having had a chance to shower and change, he felt uncomfortable about his appearance. All his detailed planning about what he was going to wear had gone out of the window, thanks to the two punks. One of them had fired a sawn-off shotgun at an off-duty cop who had come too close to the jewellery shop - but luckily not quite close enough. Roy had seen, more times than he had needed, the effects of a 12-bore fired from a few feet at a human being. It could shear off a limb or punch a hole the size of a football through their chest. This cop, a detective called Bill Green who Grace knew - they had played rugger on the same team a few times - had been peppered from about thirty yards. At this distance the pellets could just about have brought down a pheasant or a rabbit, but not a fifteen-stone scrum prop in a leather jacket. Bill Green was relatively lucky - his jacket had shielded his body but he had several pellets embedded in his face, including one in his left eye.

By the time Grace had got to the scene, the punks were already in custody, after crashing and rolling their getaway Jeep. He was determined to stick them with an attempted murder charge on top of armed robbery. He hated the way more and more criminals were using guns in the UK - and forcing more and more police to have firearms to hand. In his father's day armed cops would have been unheard of. Now in some cities forces kept guns in the boots of their cars as routine. Grace wasn't naturally a vengeful person, but so far as he was concerned, anyone who fired a gun at a police officer - or at any innocent person - should be hanged.

The traffic still wasn't moving. He looked at the dash clock, at the rain falling, at the clock again, at the burning red tail lights of the car in front - the prat had his fogs on, almost dazzling him. Then he checked his watch, hoping the car clock might be wrong. But it wasn't. Ten whole minutes had passed and they hadn't moved an inch. Nor had any traffic come past from the opposite direction.

Shards of blue light flitted across his interior mirror and wing mirror. Then he heard a siren. A patrol car screamed past. Then an ambulance. Another patrol car, flat out, followed by two fire engines.

Shit. There had been road works when he'd come this way a couple of days ago, and he'd figured that was the reason for the delay. But now he realized it must be an accident, and fire engines meant it was a bad one.

Another fire engine went past. Then another ambulance, twosandblues full on. Followed by a rescue truck.

He looked at the clock again: 9.15 p.m. He should have picked her up three-quarters of an hour ago, in Tunbridge Wells, which was still a good twenty minutes away without this holdup.

Terry Miller, a newly divorced Detective Inspector in Grace's division, had been regaling him with boasts about his conquests from a couple of internet dating sites and urging Grace to sign up. Boy had resisted, then, when he started finding suggestive emails in his inbox from different women, found out to his fury that Terry Miller had signed him up to a site called U-Date without telling him.

He still had no idea what had prompted him to actually respond (o one of the emails. Loneliness? Curiosity? Lust? He wasn't sure. For the past eight years he had got through life just by going steadily from day to day. Some days he tried to forget, other days he felt guilty for not remembering.


Now he was suddenly feeling guilty for going on this date.

She looked gorgeous - from her photo, at any rate. He liked her name, too. Claudine. French-sounding, it had something exotic. Her picture was hot! Amber hair, seriously pretty face, tight blouse showing a weapons-grade bust, sitting on the edge of a bed with a miniskirt pulled high enough to show she was wearing lace-topped hold- ups and might not be wearing knickers.

They'd had just one phone conversation, in which she had practically seduced him down the line. A bunch of flowers he'd bought at a petrol station lay on the passenger seat beside him. Red roses corny, he knew, but that

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