(Leo Keane international thrillers book two)
Hong Kong - Chapter 1
Looking back, Jamie would wish it had never happened.
He would thump so hard against the window of time, hoping that his previous self would hear the warning as the events of the night ran back through his memory. But nothing would change. The night, unedited, would scroll through his thoughts, the same events, leading to the same result, leading to the same events, leading to now.
Opening his eyes slowly, he hopes things are different. They’re not.
The dark cell, the smell of strong disinfectant, the swirling lights through the glass bricks above his bed. Somewhere in the block someone shouts - “No! No! No!” - louder with each repetition. Inside his head he shouts as his memory of the night starts again.
Isobel shivers like the last fruit of the forbidden tree. Delectable, vulnerable, obtainable. She leans against the railing of the bar they’re in, her bare shoulders slightly hunched against the evening’s chill. She’s beautiful; he’s never noticed before, or maybe he had but just never thought about it.
London lies in front of her, relaxing into the evening. It’s as though even the city knows what’s going to happen and can’t do anything about it. Isobel traces the routes of the taxis below with her fingertips. Slender pale fingers, long red nails. Being ten floors up is enough to make you feel detached from the world, you can watch it without being part of it.
Isobel straightens up slightly. Maybe she’s heard Jamie’s footsteps joining her on the balcony, maybe it’s the chill of the evening. She moves her right arm around the back of her long, straight, red hair and sweeps it over her shoulder. It falls down her front, curving over her shoulder and past the swell of her breasts beneath the strapless red dress.
From the door to the balcony, Jamie waits, considering his move. He’s had enough drinks to disregard concerns about sleeping with a colleague - how to make it happen, that’s his concern now.
Inside the party flows. Lights strobe and people dance. Jackets and ties are abandoned in favour of careless stomping to the music of the DJ.
Jamie walks towards her. He lets her hear his footsteps. He wants her to hear his footsteps, so she’ll know its him.
“The city really does look beautiful from here, doesn’t it?” he asks, joining her on the railing. Their elbows touch imperceptibly.
“Yeah,” she says, turning to look at him. “What’s that over there?” she asks, pointing towards the flashing needle of The Shard.
“You’ve been here long enough to know that,” he replies.
“Nearly six months,” she says, turning back towards him.
“Where did you live before?”
“A long way from here,” she says, exhaling deeply, her breath a wisp in the cold night. “Are you playing the game too?” she asks with glinting eyes.
What game? Jamie thinks, confused. Maybe she’s not that innocent after all.
“Where you pretend to be enjoying yourself. This totally isn’t your scene,” she says.
This is going to be easy, Jamie thinks, confidence restored, she’ll talk herself into it.
The rumble of celebration continues from the bar. The DJ plays a tune that the swelling crowd agrees with and there’s a cheer followed by indistinct singing.
Jamie says nothing as the city below turns itself into sleep.
“I like this place,” Isobel says, filling the silence.
Let her do the work, he thinks, she’ll talk herself into it.
“It’s a nice bar, don’t you think? It’s peaceful up here,” she says.
“I’ve not been before.”
He’s not been because it’s tacky. Neon and chrome.
They both stare out towards nothing. Isobel shivers and slides closer towards Jamie on the railing.
“Parties like this can be crazy though, sometimes I don’t even know what the point is. Everyone’s drunk and most don’t even like each other.”
Jamie notices her voice softening with alcohol. He’s heard her in the office, although they’ve never spoken personally.
“You’ve got to enjoy yourself, or you’re fired,” Jamie says without looking at her.
In the distance a champagne cork cracks.
“I’m not sure,” Isobel says, “I’ll run that past Tony.” They turn to see the managing director staggering around the bar, pouring champagne into people’s mouths. From the balcony they are just shapes in the darkness.
Let’s move this up, we’re not here to talk.
“I’m not sure he’d really care right now,” Jamie says, turning to face her, sliding his right hand to the base of her back.
Something thumps from behind them; someone must have come out on the balcony, but neither notice. Absorbed.
A smile breeds from the corner of Isobel’s lips as she looks up without moving. Jamie doesn’t move either. He looks down at her, taking in her height, her complexion, the shape of her back. Looking down past her gaze he watches the strapless dress sink lower.
It’ll look good on the floor later.
The moment rests as though drunk. Silence.
Isobel moves, now she’s pushing towards him. He can feel her shape against his.
There’s a thump again in the distance, lost in the swirl of the city.
Her right hand moves to his left arm, his left to her thigh.
Jamie leans in and kisses her. He’s done this before.
Behind the one-way screen of memory, Jamie thumps and cries. But it makes no difference. Nothing changes.
He leans in and kisses her.
Now he’s on the path to the smell of disinfectant, the echoing cries of other men and the swirling lights of captivity.
Hong Kong - Chapter 2
Leo ran, he always ran. It made him feel good. It revitalised and energised him. He ran along Brighton’s sea front, as though taking in the world for the first time.
When Leo had a normal job and kept normal hours he would run before work. He would leave his flat, two streets back at the Hove end of the town and run as far as time would allow before returning in time to shower and walk to the office. Now a man of his own destiny, his own lord, boss and master, he ran when he wanted. Usually around lunchtime he would find himself pulling tight the laces on his faded red trainers and heading down to the seafront.
It was one of those spring days where the world finally seems to crawl out from hibernation, yawn and sit up a little. The sky was bright and cloudless, the air still, meaning the seagulls had to work hard to move without the currents of wind. Leo pushed in his headphones a little tighter to dull their mournful, swooping cries as he turned left on to the seafront.
To his right, stones ran down to the grey water, banked in swathes by the storms of the winter from which they were emerging. Soon, men with diggers would come and level it all out again – the constant battle to undo the effects of nature.
It was entropy, a word Leo had recently learnt watching a TV documentary. Entropy – as far as he understood – was nature’s ability to spread things around, return everything to disorder. Disorder was simple. Disorder was easy.
It was order and organisation that was difficult, that’s where the challenge was, and that was where he now made his money. Despite nature’s want to separate, spread and settle, people like Leo fought to find and reunite, and he seemed to be good at it.
Pounding the pavements in the still afternoon air, he let the thoughts drift from his mind. Mental entropy – if that wasn’t a term, Leo thought it should be. He let things go, settle, spread.
Ahead, Brighton seafront’s endless row of terraced hotels ran to nothing. Some of them gleamed, fresh and new, others grey and tired. Rugged scaffold towers had started to appear in front of those being spruced up for the summer, juxtaposing waving bay windows and black ironwork.
Leo was pleased to get his fitness back; he had come back from a long working holiday six months ago feeling flabby and out of shape. He couldn’t even make it down to the seafront without a strain. Now, if there wasn’t much he needed to do in the afternoon, he could run as far as the Pavilion and back.
Things had been crazy since returning. His life had been transformed. He’d inadvertently found a new calling, one he hadn’t even thought possible less than a year ago. It had all happened so quickly he didn’t even know what the job was called. One of the magazines that interviewed him called him an International Missing Persons Investigator, but that sounded far too self-important. Leo thought that he was only doing what he could to help people that needed it.
It wasn’t all good though, he thought, noticing the monolithic Grand Hotel up ahead. That’s where it all started less than a year ago. Before visiting the hotel, Leo didn’t know anything about Kathmandu, or Allissa, or Stockwell. He shuddered at the name. Fortunately, he had missed most of Scotland Yard’s investigation by extending his time away. On returning to Brighton though, he had been warned by a bright young detective that it would be easy for a powerful and wealthy man, like the one Leo had helped to shame and prosecute, to arrange some kind of consequence.
“Be vigilant, look what’s around you, stay safe, and call me if you need anything,” the detective had said, handing Leo a card. After that Leo had seen danger everywhere. A woman with a red hat changing her mind in the supermarket was someone doubling back to follow him. Two passing black cars in the same day was a possible kidnap attempt. A man on the phone was someone watching him, waiting for their time to strike.
After two nights lying awake waiting for the door to be broken down, and the third time searching the flat for recording devices, Leo decided enough was enough and moved into a hotel for a few days.
Things had got better since Stockwell was charged, and when he was sentenced and sent to prison, Leo had started to feel safe again.
Leo tried to run as often as possible, but the work was demanding. In the last six months he had gone away three times, once for over three weeks. With that in mind, every time he made it out in the rain or shine, it was considered a victory.
He would have to turn around soon, he had a busy afternoon. A client was trying to get him to go to Edinburgh to find her son who had disappeared with his girlfriend.
“We never liked her anyway,” the woman said by way of explanation when they spoke on the phone a few days ago.
For Leo, the challenge was now deciding which cases he wanted to take. Many people offered to pay him, but he knew the work was hard, time consuming and unfortunately, in many circumstances, fruitless. After six months of daily requests, he was having to say no to those that he thought were better suited for someone else.
For the Edinburgh case, Leo was talking to a local private detective who he hoped would do the leg-work for him, meaning he shouldn’t have to leave Brighton for a few weeks.
Back at the flat, Leo got straight to work – he’d change later. A run always got him fired up, ready to make things happen.
Shaking the mouse, the two-screens of his computer flickered to life. Behind them, through the bay window of his top floor flat, the slate rooftops ran down to the sea somewhere beyond.
Leo had been tempted to move from the tatty flat when work started going well. But with the increasingly small amounts of time he spent there, he didn’t see the need. Plus, in many ways he liked it, or at least was used to it.
He quickly sorted and read through the newly received e-mails. The lady whose son was in Edinburgh was concerned he may have got in to all kinds of things. Leo scanned the e-mail for anything that could be useful to his contact there.
Enthralled in the process, copying words from one page to the next, Leo didn’t hear the footsteps climbing the stairs. Leo had to get this right. If this model worked, his business could be viable. He could work from his flat and move around the world with the speed and agility of an e-mail, but it had to be done correctly.
Leo didn’t hear the door behind him swing open either. Nor did he notice the footsteps start to cross the room.
It just has to be done right, Leo thought, as the intruder came closer.
HONG KONG will be with you in late 2019.
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