At the sound of helicopter blades whirling in the distance, Detective Inspector Lorne Simpkins leaned over the steering wheel and peered up at the sky. She couldn’t see the chopper but judged it to be hovering beyond the towering buildings to her left, which bordered the Thames. She imagined the armed response team crouched inside it, guns locked and loaded, waiting for her call.
If this tip-off turned out to be good, precious minutes would be lost getting the team to her. For the millionth time, she rued the fact that she and Pete couldn’t carry guns on these missions. Damn politics!
For the second time, she drove past the alley: still quiet, nothing suspicious. She eased the car to a standstill.
Pete shifted uncomfortably in the seat beside her.
She turned and asked, “Nervous?”
“No. As usual, the dry cleaners sent these trousers back to me a size smaller than when they went in…”
“Yeah, right, Pete. The fact you’ve gained about twenty pounds lately wouldn’t have anything to do with them shrinking, I suppose?”
“Hey, it takes a lot of calories to keep my shape, you know. Besides, I eat more when I’m stressed, and these wild goose chases don’t help.”
“Let’s hope this one’s for real and we finally nail the bastard.”
“Fifty quid says it’s another Brixton?”
“No thanks. Take the far side of the alley, get into position, and stay put until I give the all clear—Christ, Pete, fasten up your bullet-proof, and start taking this seriously, will you? If it turns out to be another dud lead, so be it, but—”
“The bloody thing gives me indigestion, squashes me in like a fat thigh in a stocking. I’ve had a bigger one on order for yonks. One of the vest-type that fastens at the side, but—”
“Look, zip up, and shut up, ’cause if this is for real, we’ll be sussed before we get out of the car.”
Lorne took up her position, leaned forward, and surveyed the long, narrow alley. The stench of urine and the rotting, fly-infested waste spewing from overturned bins tinged her nostrils. She motioned the all clear to Pete and waited for him to dash across to the other side before she checked the alley again and gave him the thumbs up.
They picked their way along the graffiti-stained walls. A skinny dog, hunting for its next meal, growled at them, but hunger won over conflict, and he grabbed a chicken carcass and made off with it.
Lorne released the breath she’d been holding and mouthed to Pete, “Anything?”
“Not a fucking dickey bird. If you’d taken up the bet, I’d be fifty—”
A crack split the air.
Pete slumped to the ground. Horror held Lorne rigid as his bullet-proof flew in all directions. Oh no, Pete, no! You didn’t do the bloody thing up.
His body jerked as he took another hit. Lorne bent over, making herself as small as she could, trying to cross over to him, but a sting vibrated off her face and spun her to the ground.
She swallowed back the rising panic and delved into her inner resources. Everything by the book, Lorne—make the call!
She grabbed her radio. “Backup needed… Officer down!”
The sound of the helicopter changed from a distant hum to an urgent drumming, and its blades chopped the air faster as it sped towards her and Pete.
Thank God, he’s still alive… But he needed her help. Another spray of bullets echoed down the alley. Dust and rubble jumped into the air. Lorne looked around, desperate to find a way of getting to him.
A large steel rubbish bin stood just inside the backyard of one of the shops behind her. Its contents bulged out of the top, but the wheels looked in good condition. She positioned it between her and the gunman as more bullets ricocheted off the walls and the ground. Some hit the bin. Splinters of plastic bottles, tin cans, and debris showered her, but her shield held, and she made it across to Pete.
His throat rasped as she ripped open his shirt. A ragged hole in his stomach and a wound near his heart put the fear of God into her.
Shit… this is bad.
After whipping off her jacket, she removed her blouse, tore it in half, then used it to plug the holes. Her hands trembled as she pressed on the wound.
Bullets rained down around them. A tyre blew on a nearby delivery van. Sweat flowed from her pores. Jesus, where’s the bloody response team?
“Lorne…” A cough stopped Pete’s croaky voice. Blood trickled from his mouth.
No… Oh, please, God… Let us both get out of here alive…
“It’s too late, Lorne… I’m…”
The tears she’d held back trailed down her nose and dripped onto his chest.
“Don’t try to talk. Everything’s okay. The team is on its way…”
“It’s… It’s not…”
“Look, you idiot. I’m the boss around here. If I say…”
“I… I’ve got… I… must tell… you…”
The helicopter swooped into the airspace overhead and hovered above the building from where the shots had come. Two officers slid down ropes from the helicopter and landed on the roof.
“Stay where you are. Don’t move,” a voice ordered through a megaphone.
“Like we’re… planning on… going anywhere…”
Pete’s dry, cracked lips stretched into a half smile. Lorne smiled back at him, appreciating his attempted humour.
“How’s the pain? Is it bad?”
“It’s nothing… Listen, I…” The ambulance siren’s whine joined the helicopter’s racket.
The gunfire had ceased. Had the Unicorn escaped again, or had they finally caught him? She hoped it was the latter.
She sat back on her legs and looked up. An officer on the roof gave her the thumbs up, and the helicopter moved away. For a moment, the chaos descended into an eerie silence, then a bin crashed behind her. She turned and saw two officers kicking at rubbish and throwing bins to one side. The ambulance crew followed just behind them, laden with equipment and a stretcher.
A smile of hope froze on her lips as she looked down at Pete. His head rolled to one side. A throaty breath gurgled from his lungs. Through half-closed lids, he looked up at her, staring, but not seeing her. Everything that had been Pete fell into an expressionless, waxy mask.
The cold lining of her jacket around her shoulders chilled her as strong hands helped her to stand. She didn’t resist. Standing to one side, she stared at the paramedics, willing them to revive him. Then she heard the words she’d been dreading.
“Dead on arrival at the scene.”
With an officer supporting her on each side, Lorne stepped into the ambulance. She sat up and watched them load Pete’s covered body into a second ambulance. It pulled away, not bothering to use its siren. A paramedic tended the wound on her face, cleaned her bloody hands, and injected a vial of something into her arm.
She did little to stop the tears flowing. She thought of the information relayed to her as she left the scene. The Unicorn had escaped. The bastard had been a thorn in her side for too long, and now he’d taken her dearest colleague and friend from her. Every nerve and sinew of her body screamed its hate and her need to take her revenge.
As she drifted off into a drug-induced sleep, she repeated the same words over and over again… I’ll take care of things, Pete. I’ll get him, I promise…”
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