Benjamin Campbell stopped the motorbike to wipe sweat from his forehead. He was way out of his depth. Fear clenched his stomach as he looked back along the road. He couldn’t see them in the dusk, but he could hear the car: tyres squealing, engine revving. There had to be another way out.
He gunned the bike, accelerating quickly along the outskirts of the town. He should be able to lose them in the back streets by squeezing through gaps that would stop a car. But when a second car closed off his exit he had to react quickly to find another. He realised that eventually they would corner him and when they did they would kill him.
Galvanised into action, he made for Rocky Hill Road. He knew the territory; he would make use of it. Rocky Hill was a long road in a heavily wooded area outside Plymouth, Massachusetts. There would be plenty of places he could turn off and wait until they passed him. Then he would find somewhere to lie low.
The speedometer flicked between 90 and 100. He couldn’t hear the car behind because of the noise from the bike engine. They might be catching up but when he got to Rocky Hill he could blast them away. He didn’t know how fast his motorbike could go but he was sure it could make 120 or more.
He came to it suddenly. The trees either side shut out the light but there was just enough to make out the road surface. He couldn’t switch his lights on — that would show them where he was. Instead he wrenched the throttle wide open. The bike responded quickly, the speedometer racing round beyond 130. The road began to merge with the tree line.
Then he saw the perfect opening: a long driveway to a house hidden behind the trees. He slammed on the brakes and the bike skidded in the road. He strived to keep it upright as it slowed but the bike slid out from under him. Luckily it had nearly stopped before he came off. He picked up the bike and jumped back on, kick-starting in the same movement. The engine spluttered but refused to start. He tried a second time but the engine wouldn’t catch. Ben jumped off and urgently wheeled the bike to the driveway.
He could hear the car coming, engine screaming. He ran the bike up the slope and the car flashed past on the road. Ben continued pushing and once in the shadow of the trees he stopped and listened as the car receded. Even at this distance he couldn’t see much of the house because of the long drive. It was a safe bet they couldn’t see him either so he straddled the bike and prepared to set off.
He cursed in the darkness. They had warned him but he ignored the danger and was paying the price. Now they had shown their hand they wouldn’t let him have a second chance.
He waggled the bike between his thighs thinking there might be an air lock in the carburettor feed. When he kick-started, the engine caught with a smooth roar. Steering the bike back down the slope, he stopped at the bottom to check the road. There was no sign of the car. He breathed a sigh of relief, switched on the lights and turned the bike back to town.
He hadn’t gone far when he spotted an oncoming car. Could this be the second chase car? His heart leapt and he prepared for evasive action. At the last moment the car swerved towards him. Ben twisted the throttle and jerked the handlebars left and then right to avoid the crash. He scraped along the side and then the bike was past. Now the car would have to reverse before it could come after him and Ben had the accelerator as high as it would go. Seconds later the trees thinned and he saw a large grassy space on either side. This was tempting but he needed to put as much distance as he could from the car behind.
As he flew down the road a car hidden in the trees at the opposite end turned on its lights. They’d sent three cars for him! Hopes of escape rapidly diminished and Ben reluctantly turned the bike onto the grass.
Drainage ditches criss-crossed the field and the bike bucked and slithered as it crossed each one. A quick glance over his shoulder rewarded him with small satisfaction. The two following cars were having great difficulty: bouncing over the ditches slowed their progress. Coming to a wider channel Ben turned the bike to follow it back to the road. Water and mud sprayed out from both sides as he opened up, only 50 yards from the tarmac. Once he reached that he would be free. The cars would take forever to get to the road and in the meantime he would put enough distance between them to find a place to hide.
His front wheel was only five yards from the road when the third car appeared, roaring through the trees on the right, too fast to avoid. Ben started to turn the handlebars away as the bike met the road. The car caught the bike and hurled them into the air. They landed on the hard tarmac, yards apart.
The second car pulled up with a screech of brakes and two men got out. The first man observed the scene. The motorbike’s engine had stalled, but the front wheel continued to rotate. Campbell lay sprawled on his back, blood pooling behind his head. ‘He looks dead to me, chief. Shall I make sure?’
Schaeffer turned his collar up to ward off the evening chill. ‘No, it’s supposed to look like an accident. Don’t touch him.’
Agent down. Return immediately.
Sean’s gaze flicked up from his mobile to follow the attractive student as she left the car and walked uneasily towards the shop.
Sean was used to waiting. The heat and humidity didn’t make it comfortable. Sweat trickled down his neck creating a damp patch between his back and the cracked leather of the car seat. He opened the window to listen to the surroundings. Immediately the earthy odour from the laterite road wafted in overlaid with a hint of decay from the nearby mangrove forest. The smell of the river was unmistakable. Opening the window any further would not make any difference to the temperature because there was no cooling breeze.
Sean scanned the message again and frowned. When London used the word immediately they weren’t joking. A deep sigh escaped his lips. In his peripheral vision he saw a battered Nissan pickup approach. It parked opposite the shop which doubled as a shanty house, but no-one got out.
From outside the car Sean Quinlan looked like he was dozing. His tropical hat was pulled well down over long brown hair and his stubbled face was hidden by the dash. The crumpled linen suit he wore disguised a wiry body. He sat slumped in the seat with his eyes appearing above the instrument panel, though no-one could guess at their clear blue colour through the deep shade cast by the brim.
Someone should have got out of the car by now, so it could only mean trouble.
From his vantage point he could make out two men in the front seat of the Nissan and the outline of a third in the back. Slowly the car door opened and the driver got out. Thin and medium height, he wore stained loose clothing that had once been white. He looked nervously around for a few moments. Appearing satisfied that no-one was watching he signalled for the other two. They stood in a huddle apparently in guarded discussion.
The driver broke away from the group and sauntered towards the rear entrance of the shop. Sean put the phone away. As the other two moved to the front door, Sean slipped out of the car.
They might be amateurs he thought, but Kelly’s life was now in danger.
Kelly Chen opened the door and stepped inside cautiously. The air was cool and slightly musty. As the door closed it brushed against some chimes. The smell of sandalwood drifted over from some incense sticks smouldering on a shelf.
She looked around. The shop was typical of those in Kuala Gula: small, badly lit and crammed with carvings, basketry and crystal ornaments. Kelly walked over to the counter, picked up a small delicate brass bell and rang it. There was no response. Impatiently she ducked behind the counter to investigate the rear of the shop which was hidden from view by a set of ornate Chinese drapes.
The curtains twitched and a white round face emerged from the parting.
‘Oh God!’ her hands flew to her face.
The curtains opened slowly to reveal a rotund Chinese figure. His eyes darted towards the door and around the shop before taking her in.
Kelly backed away. ‘I’m really sorry, I thought there wasn’t anyone here.’ Her voice sounded nervous and she reprimanded herself for being taken by surprise.
The man’s demeanour changed unexpectedly, the face slowly creasing into an enormous smile.
‘Selamat tengahari.’ He stopped and bowed, hands together as if praying.
Kelly quickly recovered, shook his hand loosely and touched her heart. She smiled cautiously. ‘Mr Wei, I’m Kelly’.
Wei straightened up. ‘I must apologise for the sudden appearance. I hope I didn’t frighten you but I am expecting some ah.. unwelcome visitors. Shall we?’ Wei indicated a narrow wooden staircase and they began to climb. He led the way to an untidy kitchen cum dining room and gestured for Kelly to take a seat in an over-stuffed armchair covered with a bright green silky cloth.
‘Would you care to take some tea with me?’
Kelly bowed. ‘Ang Cho Teh.’
Wei had his back t ...