Just a note for those who may wonder – there really is an Evershed Sports Ground!
Ros took a long loop through South London in order to stop off at her own flat and collect a change of clothes; breaking into Alex Pemberton's home in a suit and high heels wasn't on. She stuffed a dark tracksuit, a ski bonnet and an old pair of black moccasins into a bag and tossed it onto the back seat. If she arrived unexpectedly on Lucas's doorstep dressed from head to foot in black, he was likely to greet her with an arm round her throat rather than her waist – especially if he'd just been woken up. Her attempts to alert him by phone to her arrival had been fruitless.
She couldn't see any signs of life in the top floor flat he occupied in a side street just off Clapham Common. Muttering under her breath – at least until she started to run out of it - Ros made the endless climb up four long flights of stairs. Lucas always said that the roof terrace overlooking the common compensated for the climb, but then Lucas, Ros thought grimly, her hand clutched around the inhaler she was determined not to need, had two good lungs.
She alternated ringing on the phone and knocking on the door until a series of scrapes and thuds announced a presence behind it. Aware of being scrutinised through the judas, Ros gave it a sarcastic smile, waved, and waited until a half-dressed, unshaven Lucas peered out.
"Ros!" He scratched his dishevelled hair with one hand and rubbed at his bloodshot eyes with the other.
"The very same." Ros raised an eyebrow. "May I?"
"Yeah … yeah. Sure." He stepped back and pulled it wider. Ros heard a crash and a metallic clang. When she closed the door behind her, Lucas was staring in what looked like bewilderment at the umbrellas that had fallen from the metal stand he had just tripped over. Ros decided to re-set his security codes herself. At the moment, she doubted he'd be able to remember what they were.
"What's wrong?" It seemed to be gradually dawning on Lucas that she probably hadn't just dropped in for afternoon tea. He yawned enormously, stretched his arms above his head, then shivered and rubbed them.
Ros righted the umbrella stand. "Coffee." She edged round him towards the kitchen. Lucas kissed her ear as she passed.
"Nice to see you too, boss." He followed her in and tugged on a sweater that had been hanging off the back of a chair, as Ros set about putting the kettle on. "My father always says t – " another yawn interrupted him – "says time passes more quickly the older you get. That was a hell of a speedy forty-eight hours."
"Diddums," Ros said unsympathetically. She rummaged in the bread-bin, the contents of which seemed to consist largely of crumbs, and gave him a hard look. "Go and have a shower. Once your brain's on line I'll bring you up to speed."
She saw Lucas's face tense, but he managed a smile to go with the mock salute as he went to do as he was told. Despite the time that had elapsed since his return from Russia, he still hated taking showers; his fear of being under water had never really dissipated. When Ros was still undergoing rehabilitation after the bombing, she had been advised that gentle swimming was the best exercise she could take. Lucas had insisted on accompanying her to the swimming pool – once. He had managed to get into the water, but it had taken Ros fifteen minutes to coax him out of the shallow end, and the instant he had received a faceful of water from the kicking feet of another swimmer, he had panicked to such an extent that she had had to help him to the side and out. Ros, ashamed by her own failure to understand how deep his trauma ran, had refused point-blank to let him go anywhere near a swimming pool with her since. Now he exercised by running on the common, something that the legacy of her injuries dictated that she could only watch. What a bloody pair.
She had given up on trying to make toast out of the few crusts of bread and excavated a half-eaten packet of chocolate biscuits from the cupboards to go with the coffee by the time Lucas returned. His hair was damp, but he was clean-shaven, fully dressed, and looked as if his mind was back in gear. Ros poured coffee for both of them and explained to him what had happened, where they were going and why, while he listened intently and ate three biscuits in succession.
"Where did you say Pemberton lives again?" he asked at last.
"Village on the outskirts of Windsor," Ros answered. "Eton Wick - within spitting distance of the school and Eton Dorney. His place is near the edge of the common. There's a pub there; we'll have a stroll round, something to eat," she looked meaningfully at the shrinking number of chocolate biscuits, "and then go in after closing time."
Lucas drank his coffee thoughtfully for a moment.
"What do we expect to find?" he asked at last.
Ros shrugged. "Jihadis living in the boathouse, booby-trapped oars hanging on the walls, Pemberton's body in the linen basket with the used singlets and shorts? No idea. Something that will point us in the right direction – wherever that is." She removed the last biscuit herself and bit off a piece. "There's something not right here, Lucas. Either we find out what it is this way or we find out when it's too late, once something, somewhere's blown sky-high. Because I doubt Mahmood's going to send us an invitation to his bloody party in advance with the date, address and details of the entertainment."
"Maybe Khalida's contacts will come up with something," Lucas offered. "You told me she has a good network of assets among some of the more dangerous groups."
"Yeah, she does." Ros glanced at her watch. "But we can't rely on that alone. Or on Ruth finding some obscure piece of Iranian poetry about a one-eyed lovestruck unicorn that when translated, transcribed and transferred into plain English, actually means there's a bomb in the car park in Threadneedle Street." She saw Lucas wince. "What?"
He coloured slightly. "That's a bit harsh, Ros. Ruth knows her job, and she's bloody good at it."
"I never said she wasn't," Ros snapped. "But it isn't Ruth who'll have to pick up the bodies if we don't stop whatever this is. And I've never known people feel less devastated because their friends and families have been blown to smithereens by a cultured bloody maniac, have you?"
Lucas hesitated. "No, but – you really should give her a break, Ros … ease off a bit."
"Should I, really?" Ros said icily. Lucas squirmed at her tone, and an expression of relief flickered across his face as her phone rang. Ros snatched it up. "Myers. Yes, Khalida." She got up and turned her back on Lucas as she listened to Khalida's report on her meetings with some of her assets. "I see. Yes. Yes, OK. Good job. And you're sure you're clean? Right. Yes." She glared at Lucas as he moved to the sink to wash up, and walked out into the hall. "OK, thanks, Khalida." She waited for a second. "Harry." She saw Lucas look over his shoulder. "Yes, I'm there. We'll be leaving in a few minutes. No, he's fine."
Put him on for a minute. She held the phone out to Lucas. "Harry wants to talk to you." As he took it, she added: "We need to get moving. I'll wait for you in the car." Without further ado, she turned and walked out of the flat.
She spurned Lucas's offer to drive, and they negotiated their way back across the river through the heavy early evening traffic in a tense and uncomfortable silence. Ros knew this wasn't the way in which to go into an operation, and that she was behaving unprofessionally, but she was damned if she was going to make the first move. It was enough that she had Harry metaphorically riding his white charger to Ruth's bloody rescue every five minutes. If Lucas started as well, they'd need a stable under Thames House rather than a garage. She felt his eyes on her a couple of times, but concentrated stubbornly on the road. They had just picked up the M4 south of Boston Manor Park when she saw the sign pointing off north-east – Northfields, Boston Manor, Evershed Sports Ground. Ros snatched a glance at Lucas just as he shot one at her.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to intrude," he said awkwardly. "I know you have issues with her."
"Yeah, I shopped her and drove her into exile, and she thoroughly enjoyed proving to me just what a grubby little shit my father really was." Ros snorted. "Issues."
"I said I was sorry." Lucas sighed. "Peace treaty?" he asked, tentatively.
"Ceasefire," Ros retorted, and moved into the outside lane as the traffic finally began to move more fluidly. "What did Harry want?"
"Oh, just the report I filed on that gymnast. Nothing special. She's been moved to a safe house while they process the asylum application."
"Good." Ros tried to inject more enthusiasm into her voice than she felt. She had completely forgotten about the young Belorussian. With a slight twinge of guilt she recalled that she had also omitted to remind Callum Reed about the need to cool the patriotic ardour of Comrade Baranovich. Never mind. Later. At the moment, they had more urgent matters on their agenda than a teenage contortionist in sparkly Lycra, but she wouldn't tell Lucas that - not now, anyway.
The light was fading when they reached Eton Wick, but there was enough left for a stroll around the village by a couple of tourists. Ros parked the car at the Greyhound pub on Common Road. Alexander Pemberton's cottage was actually a little further on towards Saddocks Farm, after which the road led out into Eton Little Common, but Ros shook her head when Lucas suggested they go that way.
"There's nothing up there but the house, the farm, and open land. We're tourists. Let's go and admire the church, look at the shops, and go to the pub. And make it convincing."
"Yessir." Lucas grinned, and then hooked her arm through his. Ros stiffened instantly – she had always made it clear that displays of affection in public were strictly verboten, but when Lucas murmured easily: "Convincing?" and smiled his most charming smile at an elderly couple heading into the pub, she forced herself to relax. You win the battle; I win the war.
They wandered around for an hour, by which time the streets were empty and the church had joined the shops in closing. With the light had gone the little warmth of an autumn day, and Lucas zipped his jacket against the chill.
"Time to eat," he said firmly. 'You know what this weather does to your breathing. You're supposed to avoid the cold."
Ros glowered at him. "Will you for God's sake stop fussing?"
"OK!" Now it was Lucas's turn to look offended – genuinely so, she thought. "Fine - none of my business. Just don't expect me to wait for you to catch up if we need to make a quick exit … boss."
He strode across the car park and into the pub, leaving her standing there. Ros's first instinct was to storm after him and give him the tongue-lashing he was asking for, but then she hesitated. Like Harry, Lucas had spent hours at her bedside in the intensive care unit, and taken care of her afterwards. That was all he was trying to do now. It wasn't his fault that she always read such attempts as a hint that she was too feeble to be in the field any longer, and went instantly on the defensive. She sighed. They were both on edge, and as the senior officer it was her job – which at the moment she wasn't doing - to ensure they were calm and focused during any operation. So do it.
She followed him in and found him standing by the bar reading a menu card.
"What do you want?" he asked abruptly.
"A large slice of humble pie." Ros reached up and gave him a peck on the cheek. "And maybe a glass of sour grape juice. If they've got any."
She was relieved to see a smile crinkle the lines around his eyes and mouth. "Oddly enough, the special tonight's sweet and sour." Ros couldn't help smiling back. Lucas gave her a quick hug. "Grab a seat." He glanced around the low-beamed room. "Let's get this show on the road, shall we?"
The pub wasn't very busy, and Ros took a table near the window while Lucas gave their order and chatted up the barmaid with his usual charm. Their proximity to Eton Dorney made discussion of the Olympics natural, and it was easy for Lucas to drop the name of Alex Pemberton into the conversation. As they ate, he relayed quietly to Ros what the woman had said – that the rower was very popular locally – 'well, he would be, he's really put us on the map, hasn't he'- but that Pemberton also liked his privacy, hence the relative isolation of his cottage.
No, she hadn't seen him lately, except that once when he popped in to show everyone his medal. Probably gone off somewhere to get away from it all with Dominique; it had been a heck of a few weeks, hadn't it, with all the excitement.
It certainly had. Lucas smiled his agreement. "You must have been heaving in here, with all the visitors to the rowing."
"Heaving's the word, young man; jammed to the doors and overflowing most days. Not only spectators, either! Some of the athletes weren't above dropping in some evenings, once they'd finished their competitions, of course, and some of them, well, bigger than you, dear, couldn't stand upright in here. Much as you could do to raise a glass, I tell you, and all colours and creeds. Like the United Nations, it was. Alex came in one time – didn't drink, mind, nothing but orange juice, he was still competing then – was with two strapping great lads."
Lucas winked. "No-one builds them quite like the British."
The woman gave a smile that was almost girlish. "Quite right. Though I was a bit surprised one of them was … well, you know …" she hesitated, "a Paki. Didn't think they went in for rowing, more cricket and all."
Lucas looked convincingly surprised. "I don't remember our having a Pakistani on the squad – but then with my memory, especially for exotic names…"
"Oh, I remember his name, dear. Sayeed. Like the boy on Eastenders. But not Masood. Malik."
"Wow." Lucas had looked at her admiringly. "Now that's a memory."
She had positively preened, and then glanced past him towards Ros, who was already texting a message, had she but known it, to the head of counter-terrorism at MI-5. "Well, I do pride myself … but I think you'd best go and pay your girlfriend some attention, dear." She lowered her voice to a confidential whisper. "Pretty little thing, but she'd blow away in a high wind. Tell her to try the apple tart and cream – put some padding on her. Those rowers could pick her up with one hand. "
"I'd like to see them try," Ros snarled, when Lucas gleefully reported the comment over coffee. The pub was emptying out, but she kept her voice to a murmur. "I've texted Harry. They can start checking. If it was him, and he's still using that alias – at least we have a name."
Lucas nodded as the closing bell tinkled behind the bar. He glanced around. Apart from himself and Ros, only one elderly couple remained.
"Time to go?" he asked. When Ros nodded, he went to pay the bill while she disappeared to the toilet and then out into the car park. She had the engine running when Lucas joined her. He rubbed his hands together.
"Turned cold," he observed as he slid into the car.
"At least it's clear," Ros answered, gesturing up to the now star-filled sky. "We're not going to be able to go in there with a bloody laser light show. And first, we need to leave this thing somewhere." She drove slowly back towards the main road, away from the cottage – just in case the pub landlord or his wife were taking an interest.
"Here," Lucas said suddenly, pointing at a lay-by overgrown with trees. "Stop right at the end, you'd need night glasses to spot it. And there was a signpost just back there – footpath to Saddocks Farm. We can skirt the pub and reach the cottage through the fields."
Ros nodded. She didn't relish the idea of negotiating a field in the dark, stars or not, but she obediently parked under some low, overhanging branches and took the plastic bag from the back seat. "I'll need to change." She half-expected Lucas to make a flippant comment, but now that the preliminaries were over he was in full operation mode, and he merely waited in the shadows, watching the road, while Ros changed as quickly as she could, shivering in the chill. She pulled a face as her inhaler slipped from her jacket pocket. The last thing she wanted was Lucas fussing again, but if she were to need it and it wasn't to hand, her wretched chest could be a sodding liability. Reluctantly, she shoved it and her pride back into her tracksuit, and moved to the side of the dark shadow that was Lucas. "Ready?"
"Yep." He hesitated. "You armed?"
"Yeah. Harry insisted." Ros tapped the gun she had tucked into the back of her tracksuit pants.
"OK." For a moment she felt his hand on hers. "Then you lead."
They inched cautiously out into the field, which Ros thought hadn't seen a tractor, or rain, for some time. Thank God for that. Mud, or deep rutted furrows would have made the job almost impossible. She kept her eyes on the ground all the same, sensing that Lucas was looking around, straining for signs of untoward movement. They froze into immobility for a long minute as they passed the pub while the landlord's terrier whined and barked, and Lucas whispered a stream of Russian curses under his breath at it. At last they reached an obviously man-made hedge, and saw beyond it the shadowed outline of Alex Pemberton's cottage. Ros stopped and held her hand up for Lucas to do likewise. She gave it a full minute, but the only sound was the eerie shrieking of an owl in a nearby tree. She half-turned and gestured to Lucas that she would go to the front of the cottage and that he should case the back entrance. Then she eased the gate open and the two of them slipped through. Lucas broke into a run and was gone almost immediately into the darkness. Ros slid her gun into her hand and advanced more slowly across the garden, all her nerves taut. When the owl swooped from its perch, flapping low over her head, she almost shrieked herself, and ducked hurriedly into the shelter of the doorway. Again she waited and checked around. There were no lights in the house, no sounds, and no sense of any human presence. Neither, as far as she could see, was there any sign of an alarm system. Either Alex Pemberton was very naïve, or he thought the cottage remote enough not to need one.
"Ros." Lucas's voice was barely audible and coming from the corner of the house. "We're in."
She followed him round to the back door, where with the help of one of Callum's little devices, he had slipped the lock. Quietly he closed it behind them, and again, they waited, allowing their senses to probe the stillness before moving further.
"Upstairs," Ros whispered. She watched his shadow move up the narrow staircase, then advanced soundlessly into the living room and began to search. Both she and Lucas were trained to do this quickly and without leaving obvious traces of their passage, but speed was relative in semi-darkness. It didn't help that the room was surprisingly cluttered; it reminded Ros of her maternal grandmother's home in which she and her siblings had spent many an uncomfortable Sunday, afraid to move for fear of breaking something. A wind had arisen, and the low moaning sound it was making, combined with the occasional creaking of the floor joists under Lucas's weight upstairs, did nothing to steady her nerves. Ros took the risk of flicking on the torch on her mobile phone, shielding the light with her palm. The sooner they were out of here, the better. She spotted her goal – a beautiful oak desk – on the far side of the room, moved quickly to it and began to rifle through the drawers as fast as she could. The central drawer was locked. Ros swore silently and began to work on the lock. It yielded with a crack just as the door creaked. Heart pounding, gun extended, Ros span round, and recognised Lucas's silhouette.
"Anything?" he murmured.
"Laptop." She pulled it out triumphantly and handed it to him. Lucas slid it into the rucksack he was wearing. Ros swiftly examined the desk top.
"Diary," she whispered. "Old-fashioned in this day and age." She gave him that too. "Disarrange things a bit." She moved away and started checking the bookshelves, making sure to leave enough disorder in her wake to suggest that Alex Pemberton had been the victim of a burglary rather than a visit from MI-5. Over at the desk, Lucas was doing the same. He upended a chair and an occasional table, and put three of the trophies displayed on the mantelpiece into his rucksack.
"Ros!" he hissed, and tapped his wrist. Time. Ros nodded. She pushed a row of books into an untidy heap, and a wad of paper slid to the floor with several of them. She stooped to retrieve it and realised that it was a bundle of letters tied with an elastic band. Who the hell keeps letters in this way any more? It was unusual enough to be of interest.
"We need to go." Lucas had joined her.
"Yeah. Take these. What about upstairs?"
"iPhone was in the bedside table drawer. Bathroom's chock full of stuff, his 'n hers. Girlfriend must be around a lot – bedroom's all frilly and chic." Ros nodded. They'd need to investigate 'Dominique'. She switched off her torch and they both waited to adjust their eyes.
"OK, let's move." They re-opened the back door. "Break the glass, leave it open." Ros waited as Lucas used his elbow to do so, and then stamped on the glass to shatter it.
"Field?" he asked.
"Road." It was quicker, and Ros's priority now was to get them out of the area. Silently, they moved towards the front of the house. Both scanned the garden, and then trotted side by side across it towards Common Road.
A shower of leaves and splinters of bark sprayed from the oak tree, as the bullet struck it. Ros threw herself to the ground, and saw Lucas diving for shelter beneath a nearby rhododendron bush. Two more bullets cracked into the trunk of the tree, and she glimpsed a flash from the gun that had fired them. She yanked her own free and fired twice in rapid succession towards it.
"Where are they?" Lucas was peering around through the foliage, trying to locate the gunman.
Too sodding close. "On the road. Head for the field! I'll hold them off." She heard movement to her left and fired in its direction.
" But you - " Lucas protested.
"Do you need it written in Year Two English?" Ros exploded. "Move!" Again she heard movement and peered round the tree to fire. A loud shattering of exploding glass told her that her shot had hit the greenhouse. "That's an order!" Now she could make out a shadowy figure running for the shelter of the cottage. She took another shot at it and thought she heard a stifled yell. "Run, Lucas, for Christ's sake! Run!"
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