D U E T

Neil Davies 2017

Andrea Wade was too well trained and had too much common sense to just approach a location without checking it out. She drove past slowly clocking the street, the block of flats and anyone who was loitering close by any youths or drunks, any possible junkies, anyone sat in their car for no obvious reason, people on their phone or girls who might be on the game.

Not stopping she drove to a more secluded street, parked there, secured her car and walked back. She had dressed down in jeans, trainers, an old sports top and dark glasses not clothes she normally wore and certainly not for work. To a casual observer she looked like any of the local residents, possibly a bit healthier and with a spring in her step but not out of place.

Returning to the street, hands shoved in her pockets, she strode up the far pavement again clocking who was present and if they represented a threat if they would hassle a lone woman. She hoped not as she didn't fancy getting into a fight at this stage, it would ruin everything.

The street was quiet, no junkies, no teenage yobs, and a lone girl in a short red skirt who had to be fourteen at the most and was obviously touting for business with her heavily made up face, eyes hard and too cynical.

Approaching the block of flats Andrea wondered how she was going to get in without arousing attention when somebody came out, a hard face man with thick black eyebrows wearing a long leather coat. Ignoring her he shouted at the underage hooker, waving he rover.

Not lingering to see the outcome Wade dodged through the door and used the stair snot the lift, she didn't trust lifts in these places, if they worked (which was rare) the stink was foul and you could get assaulted easily.

The flat she wanted was at the top, the third floor; it was halfway along according to her information. Dodging fag packets and used needles she found the flat door was slightly ajar. At once her red alert instinct began to scream at her to clear out, this was very ify; the door should have been closed and locked but looked as though it had been forced with a tool and in a pretty crude way leaving deep gouges in metal and split wood.

Not moving she thought about her next move and how vital it was going to be, if she left now her snout would never trust her again he'd all but begged for the meeting saying he had something vital to impart, a priceless chunk of information. Of course snouts always said that, they were always on the lookout for cash often to support a drug habit or pay off some debt.

Wade knocked on the door, "Jimmy," she said softly, "It's me Andrea Wade," she purposefully did not use her rank or identify herself as a cop; neither would be smart around here where the police were anathema to most residents a mix of dealers, pimps and petty villains.

"Jimmy," she repeated louder in case he hadn't heard her or was half cut or might be on the loo. The broken lock suggested another possibility, one that tightened her stomach.

The lack of response forced her hand, drawing on a pair of latex gloves she pushed the door open and entered softly, making no sound and ready for anything. The stink of neglect hit her at once along with dampness, old food smells, urine and the sickly sweet aroma of cannabis.

Jimmy was a user, they all were around here, weed, smack, coke and booze always one often several at the same time. Jimmy wasn't on the really hard stuff but he did like his speed and drank heavily.

There were no lights on and she didn't touch the light switches easing the door to behind her, it couldn't be secured for obvious reasons. Not speaking again she made her way over a heavily stained carpet that crunched underfoot and was sticky with spillages.

A stronger odour drew her to a room on the left a bedroom; it was filthy, untidy and reeked of bodily secretions. It also smelled of something coppery and bitter and she knew what that was from long experience.

There were two chairs both overturned, a small table thrust back against a wall with some force, broken glass on the rug and the sheets of the single bed were wrapped tightly around a bulk, sheets that were damp with something dark. The bulk was not moving or making any sound.

"Jimmy its Wade," she risked a louder tone of voice impatient and insistent, "You asked to see me remember?"

Approaching the bed she moved around it not touching anything and sure now something very bad had occurred here, the silence got to her as did the stillness, it was oppressive and unnatural.

She was around the far side of the bed near the curtains when she saw the face, still and stiff, waxy and lifeless, eyes open and frozen, mouth also open with a line of dark liquid running from lip to chin.

She was reaching for the curtain to pull it aside and let some weak autumn sun in when a voice made her jump, "Don't," with a cry she half turned and a tall figure stood in the bedroom doorway watching her, eyes glittering hard and cold.

Wade's heart was in her mouth fearing the violent pimp of before but moving a step forward the man revealed himself to be taller, in her forties with receding dark hair and a smartly tailored suit, draped over this was a smart worsted coat. He to wore gloves, leather in his case and a two-tone tie of red and cream.

Andrea tasted bile and stopped gripping her middle, "Sir," she said in amazement as her boss nodded at the body in the bed.

"He's been shot several times, dead for a couple of hours at least," he said with such confidence that she blinked in surprise. What the hell was DI Roger Ford doing in a dump like this visiting one of her snouts?

"You know Jimmy McLaren," she heard herself ask but instead of replying directly he gave a sniff of disgust and held up a card inside an evidence bag, one of hers.

"Giving him this was stupid," Ford was derisory, "Agreeing to meet him here even more so."

That was just a bit too much for Wade, "Jimmy's given me some good info in the past; plus he sounded rattled over the phone too scared to leave his flat."

"Yeah well now he'll be leaving it in a bag," Ford was cold showing no sympathy at all for the plight of the poor man like he'd written Jimmy off a long time ago.

"So what brings you here sir," she hadn't told Ford where she was going that morning; she didn't give him all her movements and certainly didn't tell him the names of her informants.

"Jimmy called me," he revealed and that alone was a surprise.

"He was one of your snouts to," Wade felt let down; Jimmy hadn't mentioned Ford and he should have.

"A long time ago," the DI dismissed.

"But he asked to see you," she persisted digging for information you had to with Roger as he did usually volunteer much.

"Said it was something big," a snort followed this, "Guess he was right," licking his lips the tall man looked up from the bed, "Automatic weapon, 9mm in my view possibly a Glock."

Glocks were used by organised crime by hit men and enforcers they were expensive and powerful, killing weapons that tore a human body apart.

"Poor Jimmy," she sighed he wasn't worth killing he was small-time a nobody, nothing he gave her incriminated the big boys he wasn't in that league.

"Loser," Ford snapped because in his mind everyone here was a loser, they were pond life, jobless, hopeless nonentities going nowhere, riff raff on the lowest rung of the ladder.

"He didn't deserve to be murdered," Andrea pointed out with an edge of dislike in her voice. Ford could be such a bastard at times, well most of the time actually. He had no empathy, no compassion and lacked any real people skills.

"Well he was," the DI ignored her little rebellion maybe he was getting used to them. She took out her phone to report a violent death; they would need uniforms, forensics, ballistics and a doctor to certify the death. The scene would have to be preserved and the area sealed off; residents evacuated.

"Not yet," Ford said harshly and her thumb froze in mid dial.

"Why not," it was standard procedure.

"This feels all wrong," he was looking around and edgy his manner that of a trapped animal, "I'm surprised you can't feel it with your sensitivity," the mockery was hard and sharp. Ford had no time for perception or intuition or so he claimed, he despised 'soft skills' preferring logic and force.

Feeling nothing she scanned the room they were alone with a dead body, the killer or killers had long gone, "I need to call this in," she insisted wondering why he hadn't if he'd been here ahead of her. Ford was acting strangely he was jumpy and ill at ease which wasn't like him at all.

Going out into the hall he looked at the flat door, "Ask yourself Andrea why did Jimmy call both of us, that doesn't make any sense unless," he cut himself off. She made the mental leap – unless he or someone else wanted them both here, two coppers, two detectives.

She tore open the curtains and looked down and then she saw it the black van pulling into the street, stopping, people getting out three or four of them all looking up at her window and seeing her. Hard faces, cold eyes, body language purposeful.

"Sir," she called a warning just before he yanked her back from the glass away from the window.

"You silly," he began but said no more as the window exploded inwards, blown to smithereens, the two of them falling back onto a rug entangled as glass rained down around them clattering and smashing. Holes appeared in the wall over the bed wide and round, black and smoking blue smoke wafted from around the window and a strong stench of sulphur filled the air catching the back of her throat and making her eyes water.

Ford pushed her roughly away from him, "run," he bawled as he got up to ruin himself into the hall, up the hall to the door and out through this. She had no choice but to follow knowing the window had been destroyed by bullets, a hail of gun fire from below. She thought he would head for the stairs but instead he moved away from them, down below the outer door was smashed open noisily and booted feet ran in.

Following her boss Wade came to a large window which he was struggling to wrench open, "Help me," he panted and adding her strength to his she began to force the clasp. Beyond the glass was a fire escape leading down the back of the building. The boots began to clump upwards towards them more than one pair.

Who the hell are these guys her mind was wondering, do they know we're cops do they care? If they were the people who'd killed Jimmy why come back, wouldn't it make more sense to distance themselves from the crime?

The clasp finally gave and Ford gentlemanly stood back and waved her through. Surprised by his courtesy a she wasn't known for it she climbed and squirmed onto the fire escape hearing him say, "Get moving don't wait for me," so she didn't wait clattering down the narrow, slippery metal steps made treacherous by a night of heavy rain.

Ford was soon on her tail agile for his size and age, a guy who worked out. Feeling horribly exposed on the fire escape as there was no real cover Andrea moved as fast as she dared trying not to lose her balance or turn an ankle. They were heading down into an alley and pretty grotty it was too with refuse strewn everywhere and an abundance of broken glass.

Still at least there were no armed killers in sight and nobody was shooting at them, "We need to get some back up here fast," she panted glad she still had her phone.

"Let's just keep moving Andrea," Ford didn't sound out of breath in fact he sounded like he was positively enjoying this.

Down in the alley she hit 999 to alert armed response, but oddly there was no signal. Funny she'd had one a few moments ago in the flat, what could be blocking it out here?

"Where are you parked," the DI asked?

"Three streets away," she tried to think about direction and pointed, "That way."

He shook his head, "I'm closer," and off he sprinted forcing her to try and keep up which wasn't easy despite the fact she'd returned to her daily jog, did Ford jog he certainly wasn't winded and had a nice turn of speed. Those long legs of his transporting him to a street she hadn't seen before, narrow and one-way with wheelie bins on the pavement.

"This way," Ford cantered towards a dark blue BMW taking a fob out and making the car bleep, its lights pulsating.

She tried her phone again but still no signal it was mystifying. Then she was ducking down, a loud popping noise close by caused her to bend her knees and jump behind a wheelie bin, this juddered and something struck it and the lid flew up to discard plastic bottles.

She risked a look and saw them, two dark clad figures on the fire escape slender and fit looking one seemed female and it was she who was taking aim with a long barrelled dark skinned weapon.

"Sir," Andrea's cry of warning caused the shooter to fire at her not Ford and the bin juddered again falling sideways, she fell with it going down on her hip and shoulder.

"Get over here," squatted by his car Ford squinted in the early morning sun which had decided to put in a rare appearance.

How she thought if I move I'll be a sitting target? Still she began to crawl and slide in his direction snaking her way across the cobble stones which stank of dog piss and cheap lager.

The BWM was a couple of yards away but it felt like two miles, even so she didn't dare risk standing up or even rising to her knees.

Pop the sound caused her to land on her stomach eyes squeezed tightly shut but she felt no fire of impact, something scorched over her not missing by much an inch to hit a tyre which began to deflate with a hiss.

"Get in your car," she shouted at Ford, "Drive closer to me and unlock the back doors."

Not arguing he slid into his BMW and this purred to life, did he have bullet-proof windows; she knew some senior detectives had insisted upon them since the recent terrorist attacks.

The shooter aimed at the moving car and so did her partner but they didn't fire, not even when Ford drew parallel to Wade and a back door whooshed open, "Get in Wade."

Needing no prompting she squirmed and twisted her lean body up and into the white leather upholstery thinking how clean it was and what a nice shade of lemon it smelled, Ford must have this thing professional valetted on a regular basis.

He trod down hard before she could even pull the door to and because of this the next shot entered the car actually flew through the open doorway and hit the back of the seat missing her by a gnat's whisker.

Shit she drew her knees up and ducked her head down. The next shot hit the door causing the glass to spider web but none of it blew in on her in a blizzard of cutting shards for which she was grateful.

Then they were off the high performance top end car shooting up the street, which was thankfully devoid of traffic or road works. Heart hammering she listened for more shots but there weren't any, they'd made good their escape.

"Thank god," she permitted herself a heartfelt sigh and unfolding her body she risked sitting up to look back. Nobody was coming after them and it was impossible to hit them from the fire escape now, "We did it," she cried trying her phone again but it still didn't work.

"No signal, I've no signal on my phone; is yours working?"

To her surprise he didn't respond nor did he try his phone, features like stone he took a sharp left and slowed down a bit to avoid hitting a bin wagon; it must be collection day in this part of town.

She said, "We need to report this," where they heading back to HQ or to a nearer police station, "Those bastards were trying to kill us," it was obvious now Jimmy had been left as bait to lure them both into a trap. Had Jimmy even been the intended target?

Back ramrod straight and face unreadable Ford negotiated the bin wagon but he still didn't reach for his phone and she was confused, didn't he want to report this?

"Sir," she put as much emphasis into this one word as she could to solicit a response and eventually it came, but his tone was clipped and even a bit flat and it wasn't the reply she'd been expecting.

"We need to disappear Andrea to lie low and keep our heads down."

At first she wasn't sure she'd heard him right, disappear? They had to call this in, make statements and get armed response on the move plus there was a murder to report. They were CID officers, professionals not civilians on the run from bad guys; it was their job to chase the bad guys.

"We have a duty to report this," she left off the 'sir' part deliberately.

"Not this time," his reply startled her.

"What do you mean, guns have been fired."

Don't you think I noticed his sharp gaze in the mirror told her then the car rocked violently, Wade was sure she heard a low bang and they were slowing down, rumbling and shaking over the road.

Tyre she realised, one of the tyres has gone. She looked around anxiously but couldn't see anything or anyone, no flash of a rifle barrel or scope.

"Out," said Ford as they ground to a halt. Not arguing she got out but bent her knees and kept low using the BMW for cover. When he emerged the DI was carrying an automatic weapon of his own, something he'd pulled from under the dash and hurriedly assembled like a kit. Slapping a magazine into place he turned the silver skinned lightweight Heckler and Koch over in his hands.

Dazed to see it and wondering what a DI in the Met was doing with such a thing she watched him squat down and scan the surrounding rooftops just as she had done seconds ago.

Someone had blown the front right tyre and the BMW wasn't going anywhere, they were on foot unless they could find a cab and she couldn't see any in this deserted back street of bedsits, fleapit hotels and boarded up shops.

"We left them a mile back," she jabbered.

"More than one team," he replied.

"You know who they are, don't you," she'd had her suspicions from the start that Ford knew more than he was telling. This had never been about some low level snout, Jimmy was just a ruse to get them here, "Why do they want to kill us?"

Not answering he made his way to a small white van his body compact and senses alert, waving her to join him he kept his weapon trained on the topmost windows of the buildings.

"We need to get out of sight we're too exposed here," he nudged her and she turned to look at one of the former shops, its windows boarded up, "Think you could break in," he asked, "Go; I'll cover you."

Not happy about the five yard dash she made it without anyone shooting at her and studied the shop, the front door was padlocked, making her way around the side she came to a gate that was easy to climb over. Thank god she was wearing jeans and not a skirt with flats instead of heels.

A small dirty yard and a back door also locked. Frosted glass. She shattered this with a brick and reached inside feeling for the bolt and praying there was no dog. Her fingers found long slim metal and she pulled; with a click the door sank inwards.

Turning to go back for Ford she found with a jolt he was stood right behind her, having crept up silently. "Thought it would save time if I just followed you," he said with a tight smile, "Good work by the way, you've got all the makings of a good burglar DS Wade."

Pushing in front he eased inside, gun held at stomach height but the shop was clearly empty it stank of neglect and lack of human habitation. Wade had a small pencil torch in his jacket pocket she used this to partially light their way although the narrow beam didn't reveal much beyond spider's webs, muck, dust and rust. Cheap carpet heavily stained and damp filled walls, lots of empty lager cans and fag butts hinted at squatters maybe junkies.

"Somebody's been here," she breathed, "God what's that smell," it was rank and bitter like sewage?

"Just somebody taking a dump," Ford didn't seem all that bothered even if his designer suit and shoes were getting a bit grubby and his tie was askew.

"How come you have a machine gun in your car," she felt moved to ask?

"Sensible precaution," he moved into a back room kicking detritus out of his way.

"You were expecting an armed death squad," it was hardly a question and she didn't expect a straight answer. Palming web from her face and hair she gave a low cough, something scampered over one of her shoes but she chose not to see what it was.

"I'm sorry you got dragged into this Andrea it's a damn shame but there's nothing I can do about it now." She'd never heard him apologize before, he wasn't the apologizing type not tough macho Roger Ford a hero in his own lunch hour.

"Just what have I been dragged into sir, why would a death squad bother with a sad loser like Jimmy then stick around for us?"

He squinted as her torch beam illuminated his lean features. Not a bad looking man if you liked cold-hearted bastards who were into power trips, misogynists who saw women as inconvenient.

"Best you don't know."

Oh really she fumed, I'm being shot at but don't deserve to know why or by whom. "Not good enough."

His annoyance was obvious, "Bloody hell you are a difficult bitch at times."

Andrea hoped she was a difficult bitch to men like him all the time, "If I have to die I'd like to know what for."

"You're not going to die and neither am I," he kicked open the next door as it was jammed and they entered a winding passageway with more dust and webbing, "We should be safe here for the time being but I'd like to find another way out."

Charming little bolt hole she thought, just how long where they going to be stuck here with the spiders, beetles and goodness knew what else?

"So who are they," she asked, "The people with the guns," he wasn't fobbing her off with a taciturn expression or unhelpful repetitions of 'don't know' because he did know.

"Professionals," he drawled.

"That much I could work out for myself given the fire power and determination."

"I think they were sent to kill me," Ford finally conceded, "That I'm the target not you, you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Okay that begs the obvious question of why they're trying to kill you."

He surveyed the gloomy hole brushing something from his balding pate, "I don't fancy asking them."

"Am I supposed to believe you don't know," she'd had enough of his patronising attitude.

"You can believe what you like Andrea but I suspect I've more enemies than you, I've nicked more villains."

Whoever these villains were they had money, enough to pay for a top notch killing team so that tended to rule out the usual low level scum, regional dealers and routine thugs.

"This feels big time," she tossed back to see if he'd bite when he didn't she added the rider, "One of the major players, the big crime families."

Not disputing this he shrugged, finding a relatively clean tea chest he dusted it with a hanky and sat down. Pinching the bridge of his nose he let out a tired sigh as if all of a sudden he was finding this a bit much to handle.

Wade tried to think of recent cases involving the top end of the food chain but nothing came to mind, they hadn't been rattling any major cages. Their unit was highly specialised and tended to focus in on unusual murders, organized crime was a different department.

She tried her phone again but it still had no signal, "I think they're jamming us, they must have some impressive tech."

Ford took out his own phone but its screen remained blank to, "Listen Andrea I hate to suggest this but it might be a good idea if we split up and went our separate ways. If this team are after me, and I'm pretty sure they are, then you might be better off alone."

The idea of abandoning Ford to his fate did have a certain appeal, they weren't exactly friends and he hadn't exactly treated her well since she joined the unit. He wasn't a nice guy in fact he could be an absolute twat at times and she'd often thought of shooting him herself. That said he was a fellow officer, her boss and she was too professional to just turn her back on him.

"No," she said flatly.

"Why not," he exhaled strongly through his teeth, "Feel a sense of duty do we, want to do the right thing? There's no mileage in being stupid Andrea in trying to play the hero."

"It's not about that," she said huffily.

"Isn't it? I know you, I know your type – little Miss Righteous – you've been like that ever since we met. You always have to follow your conscious, your code of ethics."

"I don't frankly care if you die in a hail of bullets," she snapped back surprised by how much anger there was in her tone, "Maybe it's what you deserve after how you've abused me and others, you're a bully and a braggart."

He cut in, "Speak your mind why don't you."

"But I happen to believe in the job I do, I take it seriously and I will not turn my back on an officer in distress, not even one like you."

"I think you're skidding very close to insubordination DS Wade, I'd watch that sharp tongue of yours before you dig your own grave."

Of all the people in their unit she was perhaps the only one who stood up to Roger Ford and gave as good as she got, fighting back against his harassment and oppressive style of leadership. Going right to the edge and sometimes over it when her temper was roused.

"I think you're lying to me sir, that you know more than you're letting on and I don't appreciate being left out of the loop."

Andrea met Jimmy at Chancellor's cafe on Abingdon Street, his choice; she was told to dress down and so wore a denim jacket, pink blouse and white chinos, trainers not shoes and light make up, hair combined back into a bun.

Even so she stood out she couldn't fail to. The other people in the cafe where a monstrously obese woman stuffing down a fried breakfast, a gaunt man with no teeth sucking on a donut, two anorexic teens obviously junkies and a middle aged guy fast asleep with a widening stain at his crotch.

Good grief the place was horrendous, like something from the end of the world. It wasn't too clean either with grease stains on all the table, ketchup on the floor and an overriding stench of burnt food.

Ordering tea she was presented with a cup of something lukewarm and slightly bronze that could have been anything from polish to urine, she did not attempt to drink it.

Jimmy was fifteen minutes late, shambling in with a slight limp and a wheeze, giving her a weak smile and a stammered apology. He reeked of booze, cheap after shave and dried piss.

"I can't recommend the tea," she told him.

"Coca Cola," he told the painfully thin, almost bloodless waitress, "Can and not a bottle," he sat back with a sigh a shrunken husk of a man who looked nothing like the person in the old photo she'd found on the internet.

Dobbs, Mason and McLaren were a top firm of lawyers and Jimmy had been a partner back when he was known as James Walter McLaren, back when he had a job, a life and a family before the scandal that destroyed him and the booze and the slide into oblivion.

Looking at him now she could hardly believe that he had passed the bar exam and become a QC before he was 29, she was 29 and not half as well qualified or successful in her career. If it could happen to him...no best not to go there.

"You said over the phone," she began but was waved quite as the can of coke was delivered and the girl had drifted away holding her nose.

"This is big Andi very big," he popped the ring pull with a strength that surprised her in those nicotine stained fingers, "The biggest thing I've ever known and I'm wondering if you've got the balls to handle it."

Ignoring the insult she met his watery gaze, he was half-cut already and it wasn't even 10 am, was he wasting her time was this a wild goose chase? She decided to give him a few minutes to justify her presence but not too many.

"You mentioned Roger Ford, he's my boss."

"Ah yes good old Roger, Roger the dodger," he chuckled, "Bright lad, he cottoned on straight away that the way to get ahead was to pick your allies with care," coke was sipped and followed by a grimace, "No sugar my arse."

She waited patiently, heart hammering and he finally said, "Kenny Cox; know him?"

Of course she did all cops did, king Kenny was a legend, Mister Untouchable; one of the biggest players in the game, a senior underworld godfather worth millions from a host of legal and illegal interests.

On the surface he owned a string of profitable night clubs but behind the scenes had his fingers in a host of very grubby pies – girls, drugs, loan sharking and human trafficking.

Many had tried to take him down but none had succeeded, no court case against him had prevailed somehow he always got off, things just worked out and evidence disappeared like it had never existed. He was London's answer to the mafia's John Gotti the Teflon don.

"What about him," Andrea's stomach was fluttering she hadn't expected anything like this.

"Roger and Kenny have been close pals for years," Jimmy whispered. Her boss and Kenny Cox, it was unbelievable.

"I don't buy it," she said flatly.

"You should because it happens to be gods own truth," Jimmy burped noisily.

"Proof," she arched a pencil eyebrow sure he wouldn't have any, that this was total bullshit the booze talking.

That was when he took out the buff envelope, peeled back its flap and took out some photos both monochrome and colour, some in focus some not, none were professional in nature.

Pushing them at her he said, "You didn't get these off me Andi okay."

She looked down and saw a group shot at some boozy party, a bunch of men laughing to camera all tough looking types, she recognised Kenny at once even if he was younger and with more hair. Those cruel eyes, the devious mouth and broken nose were unmistakable and next to him, arm around him was Ford, Ford aged about 25 with hair.

"Blutto's night club," said Jimmy, "After Kenny got off that wounding charge, evidence and witnesses nowhere to be seen."

It didn't prove Ford had been involved but he and Cox looked awfully chummy, good buddies in fact.

Next photo was of the two men stood side by side on a boat or yacht, both were slightly older and Ford was better dressed with some gold jewellery. Again they were hugging each other, Kenny in a sleeveless Hawaiian shirt and white shorts with something of a tan. Roger's hair thinning visibly now, his cheeks fuller.

Jimmy said, "After Kenny got off the robbery charge, that's his 2 million pound yacht the Poseidon anchored off the coast of Morocco."

Chest pounding Andrea felt her vision mist over for a moment, good god this was amazing. The third photo was in a men's rest room somewhere, as Kenny now quite fat and [pale skinned watched Ford bent over a sink inhaling a line of white powder that could only be one thing. In the background was a semi-naked girl who looked like a hooker, she was about 19 with big boobs and a spaced out expression.

Jimmy nodded, "Alfredo's, another of Kenny's clubs and yes that is cocaine Ford is sniffing his drug of choice, the stuff is sold by the barrel at that and all of Kenny's places."

Jesus Wade felt her head begin to spin, she'd never seen anything like this, "How did you get these photos Jimmy who took them?"

"Grow up Andi I took them of course," said the wasted, wrinkled, sour eyed man before her a wreck of his former self.

"You were present during all these meetings," she studied him intently?

"My firm represented Kenny for years, so of course all the partners got invited to his shindigs," the smile was wry and nostalgic, "Ah those were the days," he wiped something from an eye.

"I need to keep these and check out the dates," she said her chest tight with excitement.

"Of course you do but Andi," and here Jimmy added a caution, "Be careful who you tell and what you tell them; Kenny's tendrils stretch deep into the Met he has a lot of friends if you know what I mean."

Back at the factory she made sure she was alone before logging on and accessing records, typing in Kenny's name she waited for the data to load up, it was late and everyone had gone home, she'd told them she had something to type up for a court appearance.

May 8 2003, Kenny's trial for extortion collapsed when all the witnesses suddenly and inexplicable retracted their evidence. Back then Ford was a humble DC but he was involved in the case and had sat in on two interviews with Kenny and his lawyer, one Jimmy McLaren.

June 9 2006, the judge threw out charges against Kenny for fraud, intimidation and armed robbery. Ford was a DS by this time and questioned Kenny and his associates several times.

March 10 2011, the trial against Kenny for various violent offences collapsed when CPS files mysterious disappeared along with police evidence collection by the now DI Ford.

On it went with Kenny Cox making a mockery of the system, witnesses changing their stories, evidence vanishing, files lost and in every case Roger Ford had been involved sometimes as SIO.

Not a believer in coincidence Andrea sat back to rub the bridge of her nose, it was astounding stuff and very damning. Ford and Kenny, could it be true, was Jimmy bullshitting her? She couldn't see any possible motive for him to do so and the records backed up his claims.

Every time Ford was involved in a case against Kenny it went pear-shaped. Of course he had never been accused of anything dodgy, there was no smoking gun no conclusive proof he was too clever for that. Like Kenny he made sure that nothing dirty stuck to him but the dirt was there.

Wade felt herself begin to shake, what did she do with this how did she proceed? It would be smart to talk to someone but who could she trust, how far did the corruption extend? Knowing she didn't have enough, not yet, she decided to bide her time to gather more facts maybe talk to Jimmy again.

Taking out a hanky Ford blew his nose, he looked remarkably composed for a man who'd just been shot at who'd almost been killed. Of course she was familiar with his cool facade, his air of indifference he didn't like to give anything away or appear rattled. He was Mr Untouchable and the macho performance never dropped not once.

"Do you know why I recruited you Andrea, why I picked you to join my unit?"

She knew competition had been stiff that she'd been up against several male officers with more experience, "You never did tell me."

"Well I'll tell you now," he used the hanky to wipe smudge from his cheeks, "You're perceptive, you pick up on things that others miss; you have a nose for the truth that's uncanny at times. Most of us plod along juggling facts and making guesses but you Andrea have this instinct, all it a sixth sense if you like."

Flattering but he still hadn't answered her question, so she tried something else took a risk, "Is this to do with Kenny Cox."

Instant reaction with several 'tells' like the dropping of the hanky, the narrowing of the eyes, the curl of those lips, the way his body stiffened right up. Oh yes she'd touched a nerve all right, jabbed him right in his spinal cord.

He tried to bluff to cover but she'd seen too much to buy any of it, "Kenny," he laughed, "Why would he be involved?"

But he was and she knew it, Ford's old pal his great ally, "Sending a hit team takes money and connections, we're talking a major player and there's none more major than Kenny."

Ford couldn't deny this and didn't try to bending to pick up his hanky which was dirty now having touched the floor, "Bit of a reach," he said.

"Is it," Wade had found that in questioning suspects left was more?

"What makes you think this is Kenny," he avoided her gaze?

"Well you and he have a track record, you've gone after him several times and he's always managed to worm his way out of it."

"Yeah crafty sod, lucky to but why would he come after us?"

"I don't know unless it's me he's coming after and not you," she said pointedly throwing that into the mix.

Ford scowled, "Why would he come after you a mere DS."

Because she thought I've been digging, probing, accessing files, asking questions and somehow Kenny's found out through one of his minions, "Jimmy knew Kenny back when he was a lawyer, he even defended him, he said he had stuff on the guy incriminating."

"Jimmy was yesterday a harmless old lush I wouldn't believe anything he said."

"Perceptive you called me," she reminded, "Intuitive and my sixth sense is telling me Jimmy was on the money that's why he was killed and that's why the hit squad stuck around to tidy up any loose ends."

"There's nothing on Kenny," said Ford," I'd know if there was."

Yes and you'd bury it for him, "Maybe there is or he thinks there is."

Now the DI was looking at her really looking, scanning even his small eyes cutting into her like surgical lasers, "If you've got something to say DS Wade let's hear it, I'm not in the mood for cryptic clues this morning."

A loud cracking noise cut into the confrontation distracting them both; eyes flicked to where they'd come in and Andrea's heart was in her mouth. A second noise, not as sharp, made her flinch.

As she rose Ford moved alongside her his gun at the ready, a finger to his lips not that she needed telling she was a pro like him. A tread, light but unmistakable; there was someone else in the shop.

They both waited him stiff and unmoving, she breathing hard. If the killers had found them was there another way out and could they reach it in time?

I'm going to look – said Ford's expression – and off he went waving her to stay put. Not having a gun there wasn't much she could do however...the floor yielded a firm piece of plank and lifting this with both hands she found it suitable to use in the confined space.

Dino had taught her how to use the trident in his gym and the rattan canes known as escrima sticks. After six months she was pretty good and hoped she was good enough.

Not prepared to be passive she followed Ford, keeping her distance but moving in the shadows. When he stopped so did she, gun in both hands he'd taken up a shooting stance she recognised from the range.

The intruder or intruders made no further sounds and Ford blinked sweat from his eyes, the tension unbearable, her stomach a painful knot.

Nothing just empty suffocating silence that stretched her nerves taut, then...the flash and bang made her half cry out. Ford contracted his body, he hadn't fired so someone else had and panelling near his chest exploded filling the air with wood chips and the stink of sulphur.

Another flash-bang and Wade was squatted behind a tea chest shoulders hunched and eyes closed, horribly exposed.

Then Ford aimed and fired his gun no less deafening in the confined space. She had no idea if he'd hit anything as he slid forwards to explore and confront.

With no further enemy fire she risked taking a look unable to see anyone now in the stifling gloom.

Since joining WARRIOR QUEST earlier in the year she had completed two courses of kick boxing and was a green belt in karate, it didn't make her Bruce Lee but she was regaining her fitness and her confidence she felt she could handle herself in a tussle. Dino was a good teacher with a lot of real world hands-on experience; he knew what worked and what didn't.

Someone moved in the shadows, not big enough for Ford too short, too slender. Wade remained like a statue watching and waiting, heart in her mouth and knees trembling as the adrenaline kicked in.

Melting out of the darkness a person (man or woman she couldn't tell) flowed towards her at an angle, face obscured by goggles and a small mask, a hood drawn up with a high collars. The gloves hands carried a sawn off shotgun that gleamed even in the poor light and Wade's head almost exploded with shock.

She hadn't expected a shotgun it was seriously bad news and made her plank look a bit pathetic. If the guy saw her now she was toast, the twin barrels would rip her apart.

Having to guess the range of her strike she swung the plank down in a chopping motion, wood hit metal, the gun went off deafening and blinding. Wade kicked and her boot hit something soft causing a gasped grunt. Closing in she used her right knee the patella bone sinking into the man's side then her elbow connected with the hood.

Going down, gun lost the guy rolled onto his side clutching his gut and temple. Wade couldn't believe it she had actually won she felt jubilant, a rush of excitement making her giddy. Grabbing the gun she broke it, both barrels were empty and she couldn't see any fresh cartridges on her beaten opponent.

She tore away goggles and mask, lipstick and eye shadow greeted her, swept back raven black hair, smooth skin. My god it was a girl a young woman 20 at the most, she was beyond shocked.

Then Ford's voice booming and hoarse, "Andrea look out," she dove and rolled it was instinctive, the uneven ground hurt like hell barking elbows and back but the next flash-bang was over her it had missed and she had reached another chest.

Ford's pistol barked. She could tell the difference now between it and a shotgun but there was no cry of pain no falling body. Footsteps were approaching her, short and rapid.

She did the only thing she could; she heaved the tea chest withal her strength pumping it into the legs and hips of the approaching figure. Knocked off balance he or she skewed sideways gun going up and Wade swung her clasped fists into the exposed mid-section doubling the guy over with a grunt.

Her knee came up with perfect timing under the chin and teeth clacked loudly together, a bigger person fell to the dirt rolling around groaning he sounded male and bit older but she didn't hang around to find out taking his gun which had had a single shot left in it. Well one was better than nothing.

"Andrea," Ford sounded worried.

"Okay," she moved towards him.

"Keep down I think there's one more."

She did keep down but she also kept moving, it was time to get out of this rat hole and into the fresh air, "Where are you?"

He didn't tell her he might be telling the enemy so she said, "I'm armed," and hoped the third bad guy heard this to it might dissuade him from trying anything.

For long seconds nothing happened, she didn't find Ford but nobody else shot at her, then daylight streamed through an opening and shoes ran away, the third man had given up. Coward she thought high as a kite after her two triumphs.

Suddenly there was Ford grim and tight lipped, all disapproving, "You hurt?"

No I'm not she thought and I took down two hostiles with my training, "We have prisoners," she said proudly.

He threw cold water, "Fuck them let's go."

"Shouldn't we," she began but before she could add 'question them' he was shoving her towards the light.

"We've got seconds and not many of them before they torch this place so let's get going."

Daylight made her squint it burned her retinas and she had to shield her face with a forearm, pushed by Ford she used a line of bins and crates to reach an alleyway spanning the side of the building.

"We need another car," he said, "We'll have to nick one."

Was he serious, did he really intend to break the law? Andrea said, "We need help."

"There is no help Wade nobody's coming to our rescue," he jogged and she jogged to keep up glad she'd regaining her running fitness. Nobody was chasing them or shooting at them at least not yet and when they clambered over a six foot wall to land in a new street she saw – no cars not one parked vehicle.

"Plenty of choice," her snide remark drew a look from him but no comment.

He went left jogging to a corner then waved her over, she saw three parked vehicles a van, a Daihatsu and a Toyota Corolla.

"Which is fastest," he asked? Surprised to be asked she studied the vehicles.

"The Daihatsu," she said, "Slick, streamlined, good turning."

Nodding his approval Ford made for the green sports job, looking around he removed something from a back pocket, inserted it and gave several sharp twists. The car was open in no time, jemmied as if by a pro.

"Don't ask," said the DI, "You drive," another surprise she had expected him to take the wheel being so alpha male.

Andrea sank into the plush cream upholstery, no key hole it was button controlled, "How do I start it," she asked?

"Hot wire it," he said playing with his phone. Reaching under the dash she found the wires easily enough red, blue and two tone, the two tone was purple and white stripes. Bewildered she studied the choice on offer not sure what to do she was no car thief, unlike her boss obviously.

"Well," he said without looking up from his phone.

"You'll have to do this," she hated to admit failure of any kind.

With a disgusted sigh he put down his phone and applied himself to the wires, the car's engine growled and spat fury within seconds, "Easy when you know how," he was smugness personified.

"Where to," she asked a police station hopefully which was the nearest? The car had GPS which was handy.

"Head west," Ford was making a call he had a signal he must be calling armed response SO19 it was about time.

She got going, "Police station," she said into the GPS.

"No," Ford's bark made her jump.

"What do you mean no," was he crazy?

"No cops," he was still shouting.

"Sir we need help, we're being hunted by," he cut her off with a look one of his 'I'm in charge' looks only he wasn't, not this time.

"Sir," she repeated, "Why no cops," then it hit her with painful icy clarity why Ford didn't want his police colleagues involved, why he couldn't ask the Met for help.

The Daihatsu came to a screaming halt; she had floored the brakes and had turned to him, "You are dirty," she accused, "I knew it."

In the end she had to talk to someone and the only person she could trust worked with the dead. The morgue at St Simian's hospital was large and well equipped as it took bodies from a vast catchment area that included three large housing estates, an industrial estate and many riverside businesses involved in construction.

Dr Belva Cox had been a Home Office Pathologist as long as anyone could remember and the Met used her a lot, especially the special murder unit that Andrea belonged to.

A short dumpy woman somewhere in her forties with thick blond hair usually kept up in a bun she walked with a pronounced limp due to arthritis in both knees. That said she had a keen brain, rarely missed anything and had gelled with Wade almost from the start.

She had agreed to the private meeting in her office without any preamble, finding a window for Andrea despite being snowed under with work. As soon as Wade arrived she found a coffee and a donut waiting for her on the desk and after a hug and a peck on the cheek Belva waved to a comfortable chair. She had personalized the office as much as possible with a potted cactus, some artificial flowers, a couple of framed family photos and a small plastic toy that Wade thought at first was a dog but soon realised it was an appendix with a face on it.

"So what's wrong," Cox parted her hands, she had a coffee to and it sat in front of her smoking, "I can tell something is from your voice over the phone and seeing you now," she let this hang in the air, "Is it your job is Ford acting like even more of a dick than usual?"

One thing the two women shared was a cynical dislike of the macho DI. Andrea sighed, "It is about Ford but not the way he treats me," and she launched into an explanation of what Jimmy had told her, what she had found and laid out the photos Jimmy had provided on the smooth table top.

Thumbing through them slowly, her features paling and lips tightening Belva sighed, she didn't make any comment for a long time then shuffling the photos together she offered them back, "Best advice, forget all about it."

All in all this was not what Andrea had expected to hear, "Excuse me," she couldn't believe what the doctor had just said to her.

"Tear those up and get on with your life, don't take Ford on," Belva insisted.

"You're kidding, the guy's dirty."

Cox looked dismayed, "I'm sure he is but do you think for one moment that he's the only one; that Kenny Cox doesn't have other senior cops in his pocket higher up the food chain? Ford isn't doing this in isolation, he isn't the only rotten apple in the barrel, the Met is stinking with dirty bastards like him."

So aghast was she by this revelation that Andrea sat back open-mouthed with amazement. Taking advantage of the lull Belva adopted a motherly tone, "Andi if you try to take this corrupt cadre of officers on they'll break you, they'll stonewall and deny and squirm their way out of trouble then they'll set you up for a fall. You'll end up looking dirtier than all of them combined, hung out to dry with phoney evidence planted in your desk, on your PC or in your home."

So certain was the pathologist about this than Andrea's mind clicked into gear, "Somebody else took them on is that what you're saying, somebody like me another woman officer?"

"Not a woman but yes another young idealistic campaigning cop, his name was Ben Ryland you may have heard of him."

She had Ben had been a DS like her and a good one by all accounts until one day a raid on his flat discovered kiddie porn on his computer, really disgusting obscene paedo stuff, hard-core and damning.

Then they found cocaine and ecstasy in a locker belonging to him and some damning photos of him with various big-time dealers, Russian mafia types.

Ryland claimed he was innocent that he had been set up, that the evidence was fake, manufactured to smear him. He fought his corner in court and he won, sort of. The whole thing wrecked his health, his marriage and he lost his job anyway. A high price to pay for trying to expose the bad guys, none of who were arrested or charged or who lost their jobs.

"You knew Ben Ryland," Wade gasped thinking the case had to be 4 or 5 years ago now; she'd been a trainee at Hendon during the case which had been in the media for weeks?

"Yes I knew him," Belva closed her eyes for a moment, "He was a good lad bright and determined, he could have gone all the way but he made a big mistake a fatal mistake in taking on the Cox Consortium, as I think of them. If you go down the same road you'll suffer the same fate, the Met doesn't want to know Andrea trust me, it goes too high and involves too many well connected men."

Dazed for a moment as she took this in and tried to process it Andrea felt a mixture of dismay and sickness in the core of her being to learn this unpalatable truth. So Ford wasn't alone he was part of a chain, but how long was that chain and who did it include, Ford's boss, higher, the DAC?

"Do you have a number for Ben Ryland," she asked expecting Belva to turn her down flat or issue another gloomy warning.

Instead the doctor picked up her phone, hit speed-dial and waited all the time studying Wade, gauging her determination, her courage, how much she wanted this.

"Hi it's me," she said when someone picked up, after a few brief pleasantries Belva Cox set things in motion. Ben would see Wade later that day but made no promises.

"Thanks," rising to leave Andrea paused, "I know what I'm doing Belva." Cox made no comment to this she just continued to stare.

Ryland was a thin, big eyed man with frayed cuffs and prominent teeth he looked more like a computer nerd than a cop. His clothes looked old and none too clean, only the shoes fit him properly, he was smoking when Andrea met him and she noted the slight tremor in his hands. His record said he was 32 but he could have passed for ten years older.

Recognising neglect when she saw it not to mention bad nerves Wade offered a reassuring smile; she did not flash her badge or come on too strong. "Thanks for seeing me at such short notice," she began but he'd already turned away and gone back into his flat.

Messy was her first impression, in need of a dust and some air fresher, old magazines everywhere, unopened mail mostly reminders, fast food cartons on the kitchen table and an all-pervading stench of tobacco and weed. This was the home of a man on a downward spiral, a guy who'd given up, lost his resolve and was probably under a doctor.

Not apologizing for the mess he stubbed out his fag in an overflowing glass bowl and stood there arms folded leaning against a table edge.

"I want to talk about," she began but was pre-empted.

"Roger Ford, good old Roger; I heard he has his own unit these days he'd like that being the king pin the big man."

This guy knew Ford all right, the character assessment right on the mark. She said, "I work in that unit to I'm a DS."

"Lucky you," the remark was ironic in the extreme, "I know how Ford treats women. Then again he doesn't treat anyone all that well," including me was the unspoken rider.

"You went after him," no time for small talk obviously Ben was straight to the point.

The smile was bittersweet, "I tried, big mistake. He was ready for me; ate me alive."

"I've found out some things about Roger, incriminating details linking him to a big time villain."

"My advice is - forget all about it, if you want a career if you want to stay being a cop, if you want to avoid my fate."

The second time she'd been told this it was starting to sound like a mantra, but if she did that wouldn't she be complicit in Ford's crimes, part of the cover up by definition giving a seal of approval to his actions?

Andrea hated bent cops, they contaminated the police force and destroyed its credibility with the public, they undermined its ability to do the job it was paid for. She didn't want to be part of such a police force; it wasn't who she was as a human being or why she'd joined.

If Ford was dirty – him and others – they should be exposed it was the right thing to do the Andrea Wade thing to do.

"Can't," she said simply eyeing the mildew, the peeling paper and the air of total desperation that permeated this place and the man in it; a broken man robbed of his career, his dignity and his dreams.

He smiled, "No you can't can you I can see that," he lit up again and coughed, his chest rattling.

"Will you tell me your story, point out the pitfalls," she asked?

"So you don't make them," he lost his gaunt grin.

I need to do this right she was thinking, make all the right moves not the wrong ones; Ford and his cronies couldn't be alerted or on their guard to block her at every turn. She had to fight a smart battle, pick her moment, gather data nobody could dispute and maybe consider going to the media if she had to, if the Met closed ranks.

Back home she considered what he'd told her, the outline of his approach; one that had gone disastrously wrong. His first wrong move had been to confront Ford with what he knew right from the off.

Ford had laughed at him, made fun of the accusations then denied them at first softly then ferociously ordering Ryland to keep his mouth shut and forget all about it. Once Ben had left the room Ford had then made one of those phone calls, one of those 'Houston we have a problem calls', but who had he called his boss, someone higher up, a colleague or had he just called Kenny.

Ryland had tried to go over Ford's head but found his progress blocked at every turn, he had already been labelled a trouble maker, a whistle blower and in the police there was nothing worse than a snitch.

He found himself ridiculed, frozen out, his access to databases curtailed, his car tyres slashed. Then his flat was broken into computer files stolen or corrupted, they took his pen drives, his CDs.

Soon after that stuff was planted at home, in his car, on his computer and his world imploded from that point, they destroyed his reputation, his credibility then broke his resolve.

Okay thought Andrea so going to confront Ford was out, who did that leave? His direct superior was DCI Wellborn a rather cold, unapproachable man except with Roger who seemed to be his BFF.

She could try her old DCI Stan Wilson but he was close to retirement and may not want to rock the boat or risk his pension.

She knew she couldn't trust her colleagues in the murder unit; they were all blokes together and already viewed her as an interloper. Anyway what could they do that she couldn't?

Andi had been on good terms with DAC who had seemed to be her sponsor, but was it right to go so high with what she had it didn't seem enough it wasn't a smoking gun. I need more she realised; I need really damning and damaging evidence that nobody can ignore least of all Roger Ford.

He looked at her hard his eyes darker than ever, cold and obsidian. It was as if all the oxygen in the car had been sucked out and she found it hard to breathe. She had confronted him directly; something she had vowed not to do, a move that had killed Ben Ryland's career stone dead and it could do the same to hers she knew.

"Drive," he finally said his voice like broken glass.

"Tell me the truth," she shouted at him well over the line into disobedience.

"I said drive Wade," he commanded.

"Where," she sucked in air.

"To see the one man who can save our lives."

Who the hell was that the DAC, the AAC, "He is," she asked?

"Kenny Cox," there it was he had said the name called the devil, London's top racketeer the guy who ran more whores, gambling dens, protection rackets and drugs deals than anybody else, who orchestrated all the major armed robberies and creamed off the profits. Kenny 'the king' Cox the top man the big capo.

Andi revved the engine unable to believe she was doing this, following Ford's direction. Was she really going to walk into the lion's den, to put her life and reputation on the line for Ford?

How would Kenny treat her, what would he say, what would he think of some uppity female DS who wasn't on the take, who wasn't in the loop?

"How can he help us," she forced her voice to work despite a dry mouth and a lump in her throat she knew to be raw terror?

Ford sniffed, "I don't know yet but he's the only one with the muscle to stop this."

That was true Kenny's firm was huge it stretched across the capital and included dozens of people including some very hard men; thugs and killers. The firm had won several bloody battles with rival crime outfits including tussles with the Russians and Armenians who were totally insane.

"An old friend of yours," she quipped.

"I've known Kenny for a long time," Ford didn't try to deny the relationship, "We've helped each other a few times," he added.

"Are you in his pocket," Andrea couldn't resist asking this and the DI gazed out of his side window for a moment before adding.

"The deal is mutually satisfying, I help him and he helps me."

Corruption was the word that sprang to her mind, a bent copper as her old mentor at Hendon would say, a guy who'd crossed the line so far that he couldn't even see that line now.

"Cox is a gangster a big time villain," she kept her voice even and tried not to make the words an accusation but of course they were, how could she not judge him?

"He's number one," Ford said it with something akin to pride in his voice, "Which is why we need him, the Met would be useless and of course there are things I can't tell them."

"You mean how deeply involved with Kenny you are."

"Andrea I'm not going to apologise or explain myself to you, I made my choices a long time ago and I've no regrets."

Was he serious – no regrets – how could that be even remotely true, he gotten into bed with the most notorious villain in London, a brutal home grown Mafiosi with blood on his hands.

"Cox helped your career," she snapped, "Provided trumped up evidence and convenient patsies for you to nick."

"All were villains who deserved a tug, he fed me some small fish and some not so small fish, the results got me noticed and promoted. The Met's competitive Andrea, something you'll learn one day you need an edge an advantage to stand out, to progress."

Good god he was actually defending his dishonesty talking like it was the most natural thing in the world even laudable, a smart career move even a qualification.

"Not my choice guv," she reposted.

"Oh really, think it'll be easy for you as a woman; you're deluding yourself. You'll watch guys younger than you with no talent leave you behind unless you make some strategic choices."

Strategic choices – nice phrase very modern, very business jargon and very Met promotion board.

"I doubt organised crime would see your cosy friendship with Kenny in quite the same light."

He laughed at this actually roared with amusement, "Christ Wade you're so naive, half of them are on the pay roll to, you think Kenny's influence ends with me I'm by no means his most high ranking asset."

So who was she wondered how high did it go, how much power did Kenny Cox have; did he own a DCS an AAC or someone even further up the greasy pole? She knew Ford wouldn't tell her, he wouldn't betray his mates.

"Okay sir so why should Kenny get involved in this, he might be behind it himself – ever thought about that, maybe he's decided you're expendable a liability."

Roger didn't shoot this down so quickly he actually seemed to be considering it, "If that were true there are easier and quieter ways to make me disappear, and why would his team be chasing you Andrea why factor you into the equation?"

Wrong place wrong time or maybe her death was incidental to make it look as though Ford wasn't the only target.

"You can't be sure of that," she said, "Cox has the cash and muscle to pull something like this off, not many others have."

Silence greeted this; a long, painful absence of words as the DI seemed to withdraw into himself.

Then it came out of nowhere, a blur of red and black, a screech of brakes. The vehicle came from the right and almost hit them, only her keen reflexes prevented that, Hitting her own brakes she yanked the car to the left.

It was a big people carrier with bull bars and tinted glass, when it halted three masked, armed figures emerged.

"Down," Ford's hand snaked around her neck pulling her towards him and pressing her into the seat leather. One second later the windscreen exploded inwards over them in a hail of dust, hail and sharp teeth. Eyes closed shut she compacted her body as small as she could make it, shoulders up and teeth clenched.

If she got cut then she got cut, there was nothing she could do and within seconds high powered bullets were rip into her anyway, this was it she was going to die, shot in this car with Ford who would die to.

But the bullets didn't come, there was no chatter of fire but slugs exploding into chest or stomach.

A bin wagon reversed out of an alleyway at speed, one of those clunking Veolia things and rear ended the people carrier hard smashing it sideways and scattering the 3 killers, who dove in all directions.

Ford reared up, "reverse," he barked, "Come on reverse while we have a chance."

Changing gears she put her foot down just the killers picked themselves up coughing in a cloud of dust and spilled refuse, they did not fire again. Wade reversed blindly into a road and swung left making her tyres scream, then she shot forwards out of the line of fire feeling warm stickiness on her arms and thighs, something running down into her right ear. Hanky out Ford dabbed his own cheek, lip and wrists then produced a second hanky for her; she took it gratefully.

Small cuts and lots of them but no severed arteries, nothing in her eyes or mouth she'd been lucky, bloody lucky and him to. Christ that had been close, way too close.

"Kenny's gaff isn't far, we go there now," Ford dictated.

"Ambley Street nick is five blocks away," sure she was right she took the next left.

"No we go to Kenny, he's the only one who can help us," Ford snapped, "I'm not ending up in custody Andrea."

"Why should Cox help us," she demanded, "He's a villain and we're cops."

"Because he owes me, he owes me big time," said the DI, "I saved his life."

She didn't know that, "When, how?"

"Star Wars night club 3 years ago."

A vague memory stirred at the back of her mind, hadn't there been a shooting at Star Wars some guy in a stocking mask with a shotgun? She tried to dredge up details, he'd walked in and begun blasting away at a private party, a girl had been killed some hostess.

Ford said, "I shoved Kenny out of the way of a shotgun then upended the table, the gunman ran off he was never found."

"Hit man," she offered?

"Rival firm most likely, maybe the same one that's after us now."

"Okay so you saved Kenny, but that doesn't mean he'll help you now or me, he doesn't know me."

"You're my friend; that's why he'd help you," Ford assured.

"You can't be sure of that sir."

"Andrea do you want to stay on the street being shot at," he threw back

"No I want to be safe inside a police station."

He gave an exasperated sigh, "What makes you think a police station would be safe, or that these people couldn't get inside?"

"That would be a hell of a risk wouldn't it," she was thinking about witnesses and CCTV.

"This team are being paid to take risks, giving up isn't an option for them."

Yes that was a good point, "Do you know who they are?"

"I know what they are, mercenaries, ex military, head cases who'll do anything for cash."

The sort Kenny Cox employed, "Someone must want you dead very badly," she thought out loud, "Just who have you pissed off that much?"

His smile was humourless, "Everybody," he said, "You know me – Mister Tact and Diplomacy."

A laugh escaped her before she could stop it, yes Ford was an arrogant sod, a macho poser with a big opinion of himself and sharp tongue, "But why so public why broad daylight?"

Ford shrugged, "Who knows maybe the client wanted it in full public view, breaking news all over the media; he's making a point that he's untouchable that he doesn't care."

That meant he was rich, well connected, had a good alibi sorted out and could ride out any shit storm, "Got a name," she asked?

"Not yet but Kenny may have he knows everyone; all the players."

In the end she took a risk, there was no choice she had to lay this in front of somebody and Gareth Price-Jones was as good as anyone. She'd known him all her career and he'd always struck her as a plain speaking, decent, honest and trustworthy sought of officer.

Listening patiently, not rushing her and not contradicting he sat behind his desk chin cuffed by one hand whilst the other made notes with a black biro. When she'd finished he sat back with a sigh and lowered his pen a big boned man with receding ginger-grey hair and stick out ears.

"It took a lot of courage to come here and tell me all this didn't it Andrea," it was hardly a question and she made no attempt to answer as rain lashed the big window behind Gareth blurring her reflection.

"I don't need to tell you that you don't have enough evidence yet to bury Ford," said the DAC, "Would you be willing to stick your neck out to get that evidence," he asked?

That was the point wasn't it how far was she prepared to go how much guts did she have, "Yes sir," she finally got the words out.

"All right then," he stood up, "You'll need to have an implant something that isn't obvious but which can record everything you say and hear."

She'd been bugged once before during the hunt for the crossbow killer; it had almost cost her life.

"What kind of bug," she asked not morally opposed to being wired?

"One of the latest models it fits here," opening his mouth he indicated his back teeth, he had good teeth for a 51 year old man.

"In my mouth," she couldn't hide her alarm, "What if it comes loose or I swallow it; will I be able to eat and drink normally?"

He laughed at this, "Of course you will, you could hardly pause to take it out before every cup of coffee."

"Is it painful," Andrea had a pathological fear of dentists of anything going into her mouth that wasn't food?

"Not at all, it's a simple procedure. The implant is soft but looks like any other tooth. You can also summon help by biting on it."

Ford was unlikely to peer into her mouth, if he frisked her at all it would be arms, legs and torso then again why should he frisk her or suspect she was wired?

"When can we do this," she asked?

He got up, "Right now if you like, no time like the present, implantation won't take long."

"This thing will record everything I hear," she wanted to be clear on this?

"Everything spoken."

"What about when I...you know go to the loo?"

The DAC reassured her that this would not be recorded, why would it be, just conversations.

There was no turning back now she realised she was doing this having the thing put in her mouth. If she refused then she wasn't really interested in following this through or nailing Ford, she was in effect letting him off the hook and condoning his actions. That made her just as bad as the DI just as corrupt and he'd walk away just like he always did untouched and untouchable.

He was a big man in every sense of the word, once chunky and muscular he had become obese, a bloated caricature of his former self, swollen with fat and thickly jowled he had 4 or 5 chins now and wheezed every time he moved or spoke. But there was no denying the authority in that voice, the clipped steel behind the words or the sheer force of will the man projected.

He dressed well to the white print shirt and black pants looked simple but they were designer as where the slip on shoes. Kenny Cox only tolerated the best of everything, he didn't scrimp or save he didn't have to, not when he owned over 25 businesses and those were the ones that paid taxes.

His town house was a three story white brick, block shaped with an internal garage and heated pool, one such similar property had sold for 5 million and Andrea had to believe that this place was worth at least that much.

Crime not only paid it paid big-time if you were smart and didn't get nailed and so far King Kenny hadn't even come close. He bought his way out, he bullied, he charmed and he killed. Then he used guys like Roger Ford, ambitious public servants who wanted to get ahead and make a few bucks themselves.

She'd been surprised when they'd been admitted, even more so when they hadn't been frisked. Then they'd been led straight to the king himself by two unsmiling over muscled androids in dark glasses, two-legged clichés from some Tarantino movie. She'd noted the bulges in their suits though, the guns they were both armed.

Getting in had been easy; leaving might be a different story.

Kenny was drinking a single malt, he didn't offer them any and she wouldn't have accepted anyway, "Roger this is an unexpected pleasure," Cox had never lost his soft Edinburgh accent after 20 years down south.

"Is it," Ford tossed back never a man big on small talk or the social niceties.

Cold grey eyes took him in but Cox offered no rebuff then his gaze washed over her – boobs, hips, legs – before returning to her face which she hoped didn't betray any of the terror she felt being this close to one of London's moist dangerous villains.

"DS Wade," the purr was half-amused, "I hear you've distinguished yourself in Roger's merry band."

She didn't know what to say to this and was surprised this man knew of her, did Ford gossip, did he and Kenny swap confidences at cocaine parties after a few snorts?

"Right now," she said, "I'm just glad to be alive."

"Is that so," the big man emptied his glass, he didn't seem all that concerned but then why should he be, it wasn't his neck on the line?

"We're being hunted," said Ford, "A professional team, heavily armed."

"And this interests me because...," Cox belched then went to refill his glass from a decanter?

"Only a major player could pay for something like this Kenny, I mean killing two detectives is..."

"Trivial," the gang boss cut in, "Hardly even newsworthy in these violent times, I mean who'd miss you?"

"We were rather hoping," Wade cut in, "That you would," she met those cold eyes with a chilly gaze of her own, "Given your cosy relationship with my DI."

Chuckling at this and surveying the contents of his glass the big man took his time, "Relationship," he tried the word out took it for a test drive, "Is that what we have."

"She knows Kenny," said Ford, "About you and me, our past association she worked it out."

"Past is right," Cox shot back, "Past history, that's what you are Roj."

Ford tensed this clearly wasn't going the way he'd hoped, "Now hang on," he began but Cox cut across him.

"I'm aware of the contract on you son and this team who have been imported."

Wade felt sick; there was little warmth in Kenny's words he didn't seem overly concerned.

"Imported by you maybe," she wanted to read his reaction see how he jumped, if he was offended so what she wasn't here to curry favour with this slime ball.

"I didn't say that DS Wade."

"So what are you saying, that someone else is behind it and you don't give a shit or have you been warned off?"

"Andrea," Ford's warning was accompanied by a grip which she shrugged off.

"You're not going to help us are you, maybe you can't," Fuck Kenny she wasn't crawling to him or being submissive, his indifference infuriated her. They'd risked their lives and wasted precious time by coming here, time they could have used to go to their own people.

Cox didn't explode as she'd expected, his lips curled into a half-smile like he was impressed, "Balls," he muttered, "I like that, I like you DS Wade."

"She didn't mean anything Kenny, she doesn't understand."

"Oh fuck off Roj," the big man chuckled, "Of course she meant it, I would in her shoes."

Ford looked on the verge of saying something but one sharp look from the fat man stilled his tongue. Wade was impressed; nobody in the Met could control the DI like this.

She chanced her arm, "We need somewhere to stay and freshen up, and weapons would be good to."

Cox laughed at this an amazed, ironic and even outraged sound, "Oh is that all," his voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Low down on who's behind this would be useful to," she added as she was on a roll and Cox liked her or so he said.

"Yes to a shower, maybe on the weapons but a big no on who's behind the hit."

"Why so secretive," Ford's tone was respective even tremulous?

"Because I'm no grass because I choose to keep my own counsel; this is nothing to do with me Roj."

"But this is your manor you're the big man, King Kenny everyone fears you," Wade goaded hoping to prick that huge ego.

"Not everyone," Cox was forced to confess, "Not anymore."

Ford seemed amazed and she was to, did Kenny fear someone had he lost his iron grip on power in London; could there indeed be someone bigger and nastier in the game?

"But you've crushed them all," Ford was almost whining, the disbelief evident in his tone.

"New players Roj big and powerful," Cox put his drink aside like he'd lost his appetite.

"Bigger than you," Wade tried and saw fear in those cold grey eyes, they hinted at a man whose time had passed and the end of a reign. The king is dead, so who is the new king?

"Aye maybe," Kenny turned away, "Why don't you get washed and cleaned up the pair of you," she was one had a nasty niff sweat and fear plus diesel and grit.

"Where's the bathroom," she asked.

"Col will show you," Col was one of the androids and he waved her to follow. When she looked at Ford he nodded for her to go, that he'd be along, he wanted a quiet chat with the boss.

Led upstairs she soon found herself in a huge squash court of a bathroom all ivory coloured tyres, gold taps, a sunken bath and three walk-in shower cubicles. Col opened a cupboard to reveal towels but he didn't speak a single word, wasn't talking allowed for staff?

Glad when he'd gone she stripped off and stepped into the nearest cubicle to jet off the grime and filth, the sweat and street muck, the smell of Jimmy's death and the cordite from the guns.

What would Ford and Cox be saying, could the DI change his cohort's mind; it seemed unlikely to her. Kenny was scared, really scared like he was up against a monstrous new gang maybe Russian or Albanian; surely they couldn't be home grown, he had swatted all the local firms with ease.

As her muscles relaxed and skin glowed she added shampoo to her hair to get out the grit and debris, she'd been rolling in the streets to much and winced as hot water touched her small glass cuts. She didn't have many thank god but what she did have were starting to sting and she hoped they didn't infect.

It was a shame she had to put her old clothes back on but Kenny hadn't provided anything new, why should he, it was unlikely he had any feminine attire here. Was he married, girlfriend; she had no idea about his private life.

She was towelling herself when a knock came from the door and female voice said, "Okay to come in?"

"Err sure," said Wade well covered by the huge fluffy towel. In walked a woman her age, maybe a bit younger, a slim blond with long legs and full breasts dressed in casual but expensive clothes. She had a nice tan and big questioning eyes; the smile friendly if guarded.

"I'm Tia, Kenny's daughter," Tia spoke with a cultured finishing school accent not like her rough diamond of a dad; she had clearly been through an expensive private education.

She held a bundle, "I brought you something to wear," the muddy torn garments nearby were eyed with distaste, "My stuff but we're about the same size."

More relieved than she could ever say Andrea returned the smile, "Thanks, my gear's a bit disgusting now," she admitted. Tia was a real surprise and a pleasant one, she seemed open and pleasant with no side or hostility unlike the offspring of some villains Wade had met.

Wade smiled, "Thanks Ms Cox," she said formally not sure how to address a gangster's daughter.

"It's Ms Benevento actually, I'm divorced now but please call me Tia," the tone was warm and helpful.

Taking the clothes, which were high quality even designer, Andrea loved the feel of Italian silk, "These are gorgeous Tia are you sure?"

"Hey I've got more clothes than I know what to do with, why don't you keep them."

"Thanks," Wade said genuinely touched, "This is a lovely home by the way, it must have cost a fortune."

This meant with a shrug, "Dad can afford it, he can afford anything he wants," was that a hint of rebellion.

"I'm sure he can, you're lucky to live in a place like this."

"Maybe," Tia evaded.

"Dad a bit overpowering is he," Wade could well imagine Kenny laying down the law?

"Just a bit," the girl chuckled, "Oh I know he loves me and all that, I'm an only kid, but it gets a bit suffocating I mean he has me followed and opens my emails; I've no privacy it's like I'm a little kid or something."

Over-protective thought Andrea but then weren't all good fathers like that, trying to protect their little angel, then Tia surprised her.

"I overheard what you said to dad, I wasn't listening...well yeah okay I was. I don't think he's behind this death squad or whatever you want to call it but he knows who is."

Heart picking up its pace Wade studied the young woman before her, "Do you know who they are?"

A nod, "I think so, they've been moving in on dad's turf and not just his, taking over, buying up land and forcing people out sometimes brutally."

"A new firm you mean, they must be huge and fearless to take on your dad."

"Oh they are," Tia agreed.

"Why are they trying to kill two cops, what have they got against us?"

"Ford's in dad's pocket you know that right," when Andrea nodded the girl went on, "I think they're sending dad a message, telling him that nobody who works for him is safe or off limits, it's about power and bragging rights."

That made sense, "So who are they," Wade nudged and looking around Tia chewed on a lip, still scared of her father and no wonder.

By the time she returned to the lounge, showered, hair washed and decked out in a snazzy new outfit of cream slacks, red blouse and crocodile boots she found Ford sat by himself thinking pensively.

His eyes widened when he saw her, "Jesus did you nip out to Harrods or something?"

"Kenny's daughter, this is her stuff."

"It looks good on you; I've never seen you so glamorous DS Wade."

Going over she sat facing him glad they had some time alone, "Tia told me something important, Kenny's under pressure from a new firm a big outfit from abroad who are squeezing him out, we're just pawns in all this..."

He held up a hand, "I know Kenny told me."

"Did he, did he tell you who the new boys are?"

"He hinted at Eastern Europe but gave me no details."

"Serbs," she snapped, "Some veterans from the 90s conflict, others are new blood eager to empire build over here, they have a lot of money and a lot of firepower."

Mulling this over the DI nodded slowly like this made sense, "I don't think Kenny can help, he may want to but he seems rattled I've never known him to be scared of anyone."

"Then we have one choice, we must involve our own people," to her it was the only thing that made sense and they should have done it from the start, "We have to go to organized crime; this is too big for our unit."

Head slowly shaking he held up a hand, "Who will dig and dig and find my connection to Kenny."

"It's too late to worry about that, we could end up dead."

"You could go but I can't, I've asked Kenny if he can get me out of the country."

She was shocked, "How will running help; these guys will just follow you?"

"I mean a new identity Wade, going off the radar, disappearing totally."

Her shock deepened, "What about your career," she asked?

"I think that's all but over don't you."

"So you're giving up quitting," it wasn't like the Roger Ford she knew?

"Call it a tactical withdrawal," he said with a watery smile.

"That's stupid, go to OC, make a deal."

He sighed, "I'd end up in jail and my career would be over anyway."

"Maybe not," she was thinking quickly mind in a whirl, "You could always give them Kenny."

Now it was his turn to be shocked, "Excuse me?"

"Surely the idea has occurred to you, offer Kenny up as a nice juicy little nugget in return for immunity. You wouldn't be the first and to be frank you don't have too many other options."

Shaking his head vehemently the DI let the breath escape his lips in a low hiss, "I don't think so."

"Why not; isn't it better than rotting away in some foreign backwater looking over your shoulder all the time?"

"I've got money salted away, plenty of it actually, enough to buy a fairly luxurious backwater."

"For how long," she asked, "And what will you do with yourself, being a cop has been your whole life, being the idle rich soon gets monotonous."

"I've got plans Wade, things I want to do, I've no intention of veging out on some beach all day long not a man with my drive and intelligence."

Okay she thought so reasoning with Ford wasn't going to work, he'd thought this through he had a plan, "I could arrest you," she threatened softly and his eyes gained an incredulous look.

"What here, in Kenny's gaff; be your age, how far do you think you'd get, anyway I'd never let you arrest me Andrea."

The clear threat in this tightened her guts and she wondered if, in a straight fight, she could take him. She was younger, slightly fitter did kickboxing and could summon ferocious amounts of energy but he was bigger, heavier, stronger and would show no consideration for her sex.

He went on, "Nobody's arresting me or sweeping me under the carpet, I've spoken to Kenny and he can get me on a flight tonight, I won't say were to as you don't need to know. So we'll soon be going our separate ways DS Wade, on the bright side you'll still be in the unit and the new boss might even like you."

She couldn't just stand by and watch Ford bugger off, he had questions to answer, crimes to account for, he was a bent cop and she was in the mess because of him.

"You're not going anywhere," she told him tersely.

"Am I not, and who's going to stop me – you? I don't think so."

They were interrupted by Tia who walked in holding a large tray upon which was a pot of tea and plates of sandwiches and cakes, it looked very appetising and Andrea realised she was starving, she hadn't eaten in hours.

"Refreshments," Tia announced having changed into a fawn trouser suit; she placed the tray on a central table, "Help yourselves."

Ford tucked in grabbing a sandwich and taking a bite, Wade though held back, "Going somewhere," she asked Tia who seemed dressed for something formal?

"Oh I've got a job in town, legal secretary," she blushed, "Ironic isn't it," she was obviously referring to her father and Wade thought yes it bloody well is.

"I didn't know you worked," she said.

"Dad wanted me to work for him but I said no I wanted to be independent."

Wade thought it unlikely Tia had secured her job without daddy's influence but didn't say this; she wanted to keep on the right side of this girl who seemed the only friendly face in this den of inequity.

She poured tea for herself and Ford then tucked into a roast beef sandwich, it was gorgeous – beef on lettuce with pickle and cheese.

"Did you make these yourself," she asked and Tia chuckled.

"God know it was our maid Betty, she's Filipino, a live-in as are most of the staff.

So Kenny could keep an eye on them no doubt, "Well thank her for me," Ford hadn't said a word of praise so she didn't include him in the gratuity.

"I will," Tia promised consulting a gold Cartier watch that probably cost as much as Wade's car, "Must be off, don't want to be late."

Col the android appeared and said, "I'll bring the merc around front."

Tia went to work in a Mercedes; Wade doubted any other legal secretary did but then Tia was no ordinary secretary she was the daughter of Kenny Cox and doubtless got treated like royalty. Not for minimum wage and a boss was straying hands; Kenny's goons would cut them off for him.

A burst of gunfire made her stiffen then she was on her feet as was Ford, his features bleached white. The android, had someone shot him?

"Tia get upstairs," Andrea waved.

"Why what is where's Col "the girl flustered, "I've got to go."

Ford took her by the arm and none too gently guided her to an inner door, "Get somewhere secure and hide, I think we're under..."

He said no more, further gunshots peppered the hallway, a man cried in pain then they heard booted feet invading the plush property.

Gun out Ford ran to the lounge door and peered out, "Two bodies," he grunted, "Col and another guard."

He ducked back in shaking, "They're here the kill squad, they're in the house."

Not needing to be told this as it was obvious Wade looked around in near panic, "Go Tia, go and hide," she hissed at the frozen girl, "I need a gun," she told Ford.

He pointed to a chest of drawers, "Third down," in this she found a Glock with a mag of bullets and quickly married one to the other then she joined Ford by the lounge door.

Three masked, Kevlar wearing figures were advancing up the hall, masked and with goggles they looked somehow alien and certainly threatening.

Ford aimed and shot one through the goggles making the other two scatter to seek cover; they quickly returned fire peppering the door and surrounds, shattering a vase then a mirror.

"Shit we're pinned down," Ford clenched his teeth, "We need more bodies," she touched her on the arm, "Hold this position," taking out a Motorola she hadn't seen before he spoke into rapidly, clearly talking to Kenny.

Wade extended her Glock in both fists, when a mask appeared she fired at it and the mask ducked back out of sight, seconds later another mask jumped up and threw something up the hall. It was like a cricket ball and thudded noisily on floor and banister before rolling towards her, whereupon it gave a pop and released milky water.

Fire burned Wade's eyes at once, her nose began to run and she found herself coughing and spluttering, CS gas she realised falling back weeping and sneezing her eyes, nose and throat aflame with the stuff.

Crashing into Ford she knocked him off balance, "gas," she had time to wheeze before he was clutching his own reddened face.

"Upstairs," he grunted firing his weapon blindly back at the door, Wade bundled Tia ahead of her, the slim girl taking her by the arm as she couldn't actually see, god she couldn't breathe either, her whole chest felt on fire how much had she inhaled?

"This way," Tia led her to the stairs but Wade could hardly climb them, she was light headed.

"Help me up," she pleaded wiping her eyes out of which copious rivers of tears flowed, "Get me to a bathroom."

"Okay there's one up here on the right," Tia led the way holding Andrea by her left wrist, the Glock in her other hand. She heard more gunshots down below but couldn't tell who was firing.

In the bathroom she splashed cold water into both eyes and up her nose, she had to dilute the gas before it rendered permanently useless, slowly the fiery burn got less and less, a kind of blurred vision return and she was able to inhale without shredding her windpipe.

She kept splashing her face with water, wondering if any lasting damage had been done to her eyes; Christ what if she was blind?

"Here let me give you this," said Tia splaying something up Wade's nostrils, it was cool and minty and within seconds she could breathe clean air.

"Thanks," she sighed with genuine relief not knowing what the stuff was and not caring, it worked that was all that mattered.

"How are your eyes," Tia worried as more gunfire made them both cringe?

"Better, I can see now well sort of, you're still a bit blurred."

Tia looked into her eyes, "They're bloodshot but it's not too bad."

Bloodshot eyes were the least of her problems then Tia's own Motorola bleeped, she took it out and Wade heard Kenny Cox's voice gruff, angry and concerned.

"I'm okay Dad," Tia was keeping her nerve better than Wade would have thought, "I'm with DS Wade and we're in the second floor bathroom, the intruders used gas."

Wade spoke up, "Col and another of your men are dead."

After a pause Kenny grunted, "Reinforcements are on the way."

"Make sure they're well armed," she replied.

"They will be," the hoodlum affirmed, "Is my girl all right?"

"Yes dad I'm not hurt," Tia insisted.

"I won't let any harm come to her," Wade cut in.

"You'd better not detective, she's now your responsibility."

"Where are you," Andrea demanded thinking Cox should be here?

"Top floor on the phone to Hong Kong, but I'm on my way down."

Was that where Ford was thinking of running off to Hong Kong, why there? She looked at herself in the mirror above the bowl, shocked by how red her eyes were, how orange her cheeks, hair wild and lips slightly swollen she was leaking snot from both nostrils and her make-up was a mess.

God I look like shit she thought, applying some toilet paper to her nose then some more to get rid of the mascara trails; she could do nothing about her eyes which made her look like a vampire.

"It's gone very quiet," Tia said just before the explosion, a blast seemed to rock the entire house. It blew water from the bowl, sent stuff tumbling from the shelf above it, caused the loo to flush and threw both women back against the far wall. Andrea's lower back struck a radiator, winding her and she knew she'd have some impressive bruising later.

Knees giving out Tia sat down on the floor to gasp and sob, plaster dust rained down on them both coating their hair with snowy grains. Dear god what was that, a mortar shell, dynamite?

Picking herself up and check for broken bones (none thank god), she helped Tia up. They both heard gunfire three bursts close then three bursts further away in response followed by running feet.

Going to the bathroom door Wade eased it open and held her Glock firmly, a head came up the stairs, sweaty and bald then Ford looked over and saw her, "Don't fire," he yelled.

Wade was tempted, "What was that blast?"

"Hand grenade," the DI joined her. Dear god these maniacs had grenades; they'd bring the roof down.

"How many of them," she asked?

"Dunno feels like fucking dozens," then he saw Tia, "You okay love?"

Too stunned to respond Tia just hugged herself, she looked mightily relieved (and so was Andrea) when Kenny Cox appeared with a squad of androids totting automatic weapons and pump action shotguns, he waved them downstairs then went to hug his daughter, who clung to him.

"Everyone okay," the gang boss demanded, getting nods he indicated a door, "This way, I've got internal CCTV."

He had to - the room was full of monitors, at least thirty showing an interior of every room, stairwell and corridor. Very impressed by the picture quality Wade let her gaze flit from screen to screen, some were just a mass of smoke, other showed small fires, on some were fallen bodies masked and otherwise.

By far the scariest showed 8 intruders surging up the main staircase moving like the SAS, disciplined and tight, these people weren't mugs she realised but had military training and worked as a cohesive unit, they were no ordinary run of the mill hoodlums.

Next screen showed them encounter the androids and a fire fight began, one mask dropped, then an android, something was tossed, grenade she realised and braced herself.

Even so when it came the blast made them all stagger and hang on, she felt her teeth rattle and more dust drop into her hair.

"Crazy bastards, "Kenny moaned, "They'll demolish the place."

Wade blinked and studied the screens, she couldn't see any of the androids left standing but she could see the masks advancing remorselessly and was glad of her Glock, Kenny had a shotgun and Tia looked around.

"I need a weapon dad," quickly he produced a Beretta and a mag, Tia popped one into the other, from the way she handled the gun it was clear she was no beginner; shooting lessons from an early age perhaps.

"We can't stay here," Ford said.

Wade agreed, "Is there another way out Kenny, a secret exit?"

She was guessing that a place like this would have one for emergencies and from the grin on the gangster's face she knew she was right. He led them over to a wall on the far side of the room, hunted around for something and twisted it, the wall slide aside to reveal a metal door which he opened using his palm print.

Beyond was a narrow chamber with buttons a lift, they piled in and Kenny worked the buttons, soon the lift door shut and they were on the move.

"What if the attackers have a blueprint," Ford asked?

"This isn't on any blueprint," Cox assured, "I had it built by a different firm, no records."

"Where does it lead," Wade was curious, they were heading down, much further down than the ground floor?

"Hidden car park," said Kenny, "It comes out near the river, quite some way from here; I doubt they'll have that area covered."

She hoped he was right, by attacking Kenny's home these people had escalated matters to a much higher level, whoever paid them clearly wasn't scared at playing on such a level or taking on King Kenny.

They emerged into semi-darkness, a large cold area awash with shadows and a dank odour, no gunfire though although she kept her Glock ready. Cox and his daughter hurried over to a long bulk that she soon realised was a people carrier with tinted side glass and an armour chassis.

They all piled in with Tia taking the steering wheel, she gunned the engine by pressing a button and they were off, ahead a rash of lights came in to illuminate a tunnel that wound its way to the right it was circular and made of dark brick, it was unlikely Kenny had been granted planning permission for it and for once this was an advantage.

Soon the tunnel angled upwards and Tia raised a fob, two bleeps and light burst in ahead of them through a widening gap, Wade saw daylight, "Slow down," she said, "Just in case."

"They won't be here," Tia objected, "They can't know about this place."

"Even so let's be cautious," Andrea held her gun tightly.

"Aye she's right love slow down," Kenny added so Tia dropped their speed to a crawl. The last few yards were heart wrenching as all watched for gun totting figures to step out of the side of the opening. When none did they drove out into daylight, all of them squinting as gloom made way for sunshine.

Ford wasn't the only one to le tout a sigh of relief, even so he looked around seeing railings, boats on the river, a bridge but no people, "Seems okay," he muttered. Also doing a full scan Wade couldn't see anything wrong either but her sixth sense for danger was screaming at her; something wasn't right here.

"Have you got a boat," she asked Cox?

"Aye moored off the jetty it's called Anna Marie after my wife," she looked to where he was pointing and saw a large craft bobbing in the water, a long prow with chunky cabins

"Anyone aboard," she probed?

"My man Archie."

"Call him," she couldn't see movement on the boat or near it nobody lingering but even so her nerves were on edge.

Motorola out Kenny gave a call sign and waited, there was no response, "Come on Archie it's me wake up you old..."

The boat blew up, a blast tore it to kindling before their eyes scattering debris for meters in all directions as a fireball rose into the heavens.

They sat there stunned into silence, shock on every face especially father and daughter, Wade felt her own heart hammering away madly, had poor Archie been aboard or was he already dead? Either way the hunters were well informed, the boat must have been wired in advance; they'd guessed Kenny might come this way.

"Drive," she barked, "Get us out of here Tia, we're not safe."

As if to prove her right a powerful motorbike roared into view from the left coming down a ramp, its black clad rider wore body armour and had something slung over his shoulder that wasn't an umbrella; he was looking right at them through his polarised visor.

"Shit," said Ford, "He's one of them; he has the same Kevlar as the others."

Tia put her foot down and the moment they moved the bike began to follow, Wade could see any other vehicles but it was only a matter of time, Ford was right they were up against an army.

Skirting the river Tia accelerated up a ramp to a higher road and the bike followed keeping well back but making sure they were visible, Ford gritted his teeth, "We're not going to lose him like this, not out in the open," he hit the window-down control and icy air blasted the car interior whipped Wade's hair into her eyes.

"Sir what are you doing," but it was soon obvious when Ford cranked his arm out of the window, twisted around and sighted the biker, he fired, missed and fired again. The bike veered from side to side, the rider bent low over his handlebars.

She couldn't believe it her boss was blasting away like Vin Diesel in one of those lame action movies he could hit anyone, a member of the public. She yelled at him to stop but he kept firing and kept missing, the car was juddering too much and the bike was a moving target, Ford was wasting ammo.

Then they bumped up onto a higher road and turned away from the river heading inland towards the city, a rough area of commercial warehouses and building sites, some of which had moving cranes on them and guys in hard hats.

Looking back she couldn't see the guy on the bike; had Ford hit him, was he injured or had he just lost his nerve? This was so surreal he she was in a car with London's biggest gangster, his daughter and her boss who thought he was Dirty Harry.

The car slowed, which was a relief, and her stomach slipped down out of her throat, "Did you hit him," she asked?

Ford's features were grim, "Nah too much skidding around, I think he pulled over to speak into a phone."

"Alerting someone up ahead perhaps," she theorised it seemed logical.

"No doubt," Roger agreed, "Look Kenny we need to get out of sight, we're too exposed."

Cox looked like he knew this, "I've got another bolt hole not too far away," he said.

"What if that's compromised to," Andrea worried out loud?

"It won't be," Kenny's voice brooked no argument then to Tia, "Turn left here and look out for three black drums."

Wade studied where they were it was an industrial area, commercial lock ups, warehouses and storage facilities; the only parked vehicles were fork lifts.

Ford said, "I've never been here before."

"No you haven't Roj," Cox agreed, "There's a lot about me you don't know, that's how I like to play it, how I stay one step ahead of the law and my enemies."

The three black drums were stacked on top of each other; each alone was a couple of meters high and bore no logo. They were outside a storage facility called TF355 and taking out a fob Kenny bleeped this at the big roll up door, which began to open.

"No one will find us here," he said confidently and Wade wished she shared that confidence; they hadn't had much luck evading the bad guys so far.

Once the car was stashed some overhead bar lights came on and the roll up door slid shut, they all got out with Ford reloading his gun and Kenny checking a smart phone, Tia came over to stand beside Wade who saw she was shaking.

"Pretty scary huh," she offered and Tia hugged herself.

"Life for a gangster's daughter," she said under her breath, "I was never going to have a normal life was I."

Andrea supposed not then again her life wasn't exactly conventional, unlike most people she didn't have the obligatory 2 weeks in the sun nor did she expect to collect a pension; she didn't even have a partner.

"You look pale and your eyes seem to be out of focus."

Nodding Tia took out a hypodermic pen, lifted her top to expose some flesh and jabbed the pen into this, "I'm diabetic," she said, "Two jabs a day, three if things get really hectic," her laugh was ironic.

"I had no idea," Wade admitted, "Sorry."

"It's no big deal; I'm not the only person in the world with diabetes."

"Have you got enough insulin on you?"

Tia nodded but she didn't seem too sure, given that they'd fled the house in something of a hurry, "Dad keeps supplies stashed all over just in case."

"Let's go and see if we can find some, and something to eat," Wade found she was starving. Leaving the two men to their discussion they moved through into an office area cum lounge which had been carpeted and had soft furnishing, there were tall lamps, some framed prints of race horses and at the far end a long narrow kitchen.

In the fridge freezer they found Tupperware boxes full of pre-prepared meals that just needed heating up and a couple of see through tubes full of hypodermic pens. Tia's relief was evident as she took out one tube, removed its top and checked the pens to see they were loaded.

Taking some meals out Wade searched for and found a microwave oven, "Let's get dinner organized," her own stomach was rumbling noisily now and she was looking forward to Chicken Tikka Masala with pilau rice.

"Why do you do it," Tia's question came right out of the blue and surprised her by its depth and sincere feeling.

"This job you mean being a copper," she asked?

"No working with Roger Ford," letting her distaste show the girl sat down on a soft fluffy chair knees jammed together, "He's such a creep," she said with feeling and Wade found she couldn't disagree with the assessment of her boss, he was a creep and a liar and a bent cop/

"I don't have much choice at the moment," she admitted, "We seem to be thrown together by circumstances. Before then he was my boss, the head of the unit I was assigned to so I had to take his orders and ignore all the sexist crap he threw my way."

The microwave began to cook and a lovely, spicy aroma filled the air.

"I don't like him," Tia said with feeling.

"Not many people do," Wade had to admit thinking how sharp and caustic Ford could be, how he belittled people and acted like a little tin god, Mr Ego she had once called him and he was the big 'I am'.

"He uses people," the girl was shivering again, "Uses them and throws them aside," something in her voice alerted Andrea to the fact that Tia wasn't speaking in the abstract.

"How do you know Tia," she asked wondering what kind of relationship this girl had with her boss, just how well she really knew him?

"I've met him several times when he came to the house, he and dad are as thick as thieves. He's done stuff for us, bad stuff, he's hurt people."

Stomach clenching Wade felt the room go icy cold around her, "What," she gasped?

"He'll hurt you to Andrea, you know too much you've seen too much; you're a loose end and Roger doesn't like those."

Was this girl saying Ford would kill her, was he that ruthless? She felt dazed by the news, by the idea of her DI taking a life especially her life, "You're not serious."

But it was clear Tia was, "Watch your back, Ford can't be..."

The opening of the door ended the conversation and the two men entered Cox looking angry and Ford stony faced, he threw her only a cursory look and she tried to picture him killing someone. She didn't doubt he was capable, he could be a cold sod and she'd seen herself how ruthless he was at times to get his own way. Tia had to be wrong, she had to be.

"That smells good," said Kenny, "I'm bloody starving," right on cue the microwave pinged.

"Help yourself," Wade made herself sound normal and hoped her face didn't betray her.

"You okay," having clearly noticed something Ford gave her more attention.

"Just shock," she covered, "I'll be fine," but was that true was she fine, was she safe or had Ford already made up his mind to dispose of her?

His gaze remained riveted on her questioning and doubtful; did he suspect? Knees giving out she sat down hard on a sofa hugging herself, badly shaken by the news; her world view cracking and crumbling.

"Hungry," Kenny distracted Ford.

"What oh yeah starving mate," the DI threw Wade one final glance and turned away. Locking eyes with Tia, Andrea saw the girl nod 'see' said her eyes 'I told you'.

"At least we're safe here," Cox was saying as he took the container from the over with gloved hands, "I'll make some calls, get in the troops."

Andrea shuddered, "What about us," she said, "Me and Roj," she used the contraction of his name?

Kenny considered this, "You're safer with my firm for now, on your own you'd be vulnerable a target."

"Good point," Ford was quick to agree, "We tried it on our own didn't we," he said to Wade, "Almost got killed."

Not knowing what to say she just nodded, "Okay," she muttered to herself.

"I'll get the kettle on," said Tia.

Kenny beamed with pride, "Good girl we could all do with a brew," he munched on the Indian food, "See if there's any wine in the fridge while you're at it."

Throwing Wade another meaningful look Tia went to obey, she felt a bit sick when Ford came over to say.

"I've booked my flight out of the UK, I'm going at 8pm tonight; Kenny's taking care of the cost and passport."

How very cosy she thought all mates together, but 8pm was hours away and a lot could happen in that time.

"These people hunting for us just how many of them are there," she asked?

"Kenny's not sure, he's made some calls but nobody really knows anything. Could be Russians, Serbs even the Albanians."

But why would they try to kill two cops she was wondering, just what had Ford done for Kenny in the past had he murdered any of the local mafia people or framed them?

"I've been thinking," she said, "Why don't I try and make my way back to the Met; I might have more luck on my own."

"I don't think that's a good idea Andrea, you're safer here where we can keep an eye on you and what makes you think you'd have any more luck on your own?"

Yeah and I can't tell anyone about your 8pm escape flight, she thought cynically knowing Ford was just covering his own arse as usual. I have to get out of here she realised, I have to escape and get back to the unit, they must be told what's going on. Christ they must wonder where Roger and I are at the moment, we've been incommunicado for hours.

The two men ate their meals, Wade picked at hers, forsaking wine she drank tea to keep a clear head she felt she was going to need all her wits about her. She noticed that Tia didn't drink any wine either and just nibbled at her salad, not joining in the general conversation.

Eventually Kenny got out and left the room to 'make some calls and chew some arse', Ford also drifted away to check the doors and windows. Wade wondered if he was securing them so she couldn't make a quick getaway.

Left alone with Tia she went to wash up the pots and felt the girl move up behind her, "I'll wipe," she said even though it was just some mugs, spoons a couple of dishes.

"I think I need to get out of here fast," Andrea said in a low but decisive voice.

"Yeah I picked up on that," said Tia.

"Is there a way out Ford doesn't know about?"

Looking around anxiously the girl hugged a bowl to her stomach, "My dad will be furious if I help you."

Wade was sure, "Please Tia I don't trust him or Roger I think they're planning to do something before this 8pm flight."

Mulling that over the girl nodded, "If you got out where would you go?"

"The Met, they need to know what's going on what Ford is up to, I can't just let him walk away he's a bent cop and possibly worse."

Silent for several moments the girl seemed to be debating in her head, finally she nodded, "if you go I'm coming with you," she said, "Well I can hardly stay here can I?"

The kid would slow her down; she might be a handicap on the other hand without her assistance no escape was possible, "Okay," Wade said reluctantly "we go together."

Tossing her towel aside Tia went to check that none of the men had come back, putting an ear to first ne door then another she listened carefully. Satisfied she waved Andrea to follow and went over to a side wall, pressing a hidden catch to expose a doorway with a keypad. 8 presses later this slid aside and a short passageway led to a door with a bar across it.

Going to a second keypad Tia inputted 8 more digits and the bar slowly rose with a clunk. Wade found herself in an alleyway, it was narrow and short but she was outside, cold rain splattered into her hair and wetted her cheeks but she felt euphoric to be out of that claustrophobic room.

"This way," said Tia.

"Are we taking the people carrier," Andrea hadn't seen any other vehicles sat around.

"Yes they won't be able to follow us."

Guilty though she felt about abandoning Ford she knew he'd be okay, Cox could summon other vehicles he was a man of considerable resources.

Emerging from the alleyway both were hit by a gust of wind and more rain, this was picking up as the sky darkened ominously and soon Wade felt wet through. Tia looked left and right, hesitated then set off again, soon the car was in sight but Wade froze heart in her mouth.

Ford was stood beside it talking into his phone. Pulling Tia back behind some bins Andrea felt sick with dismay, this was terrific had Ford anticipated their plans did he know she was making a run for it?

Then she overheard his voice, "Yes just off the north river road, an industrial park, we're in unit 56B," who was he talking to and why was he giving their location away; was he calling the Met?

"Me, Kenny and 2 girls," said Ford with a sneer, "One of them is my colleague DS Wade, yeah that's her, plucky cow but I think she's cottoned on and is now a threat she'll have to be taken care of."

Heart in her mouth and limbs shaking Andrea felt all the blood drain from her face. Ford went on, "Quick as you can, Cox has called in the cavalry; I want this sorted out ASAP, I've a flight to catch."

With a laugh Roger turned in her direction but he couldn't see her she was sure not with the bin in the way, "Yeah my finance is sorted out; Kenny wired the money to..." She didn't hear the next bit presumably an offshore account, but she did hear what he said next.

"Ten minutes, got it," and he closed his phone before heading back inside. Pausing as if he'd forgotten something he walked back a few paces and Wade's heart almost stopped. It was raining heavily now and she was soaked, Tia to. Go in she willed, go in for fuck sake.

In the end it was a call from Kenny that did the trick, "Oi mate," he shouted and the DI spun around heading towards the building.

Now she thought this is our chance maybe our only chance if the bad guys are on the way, "Come on Tia," she ran first sprinting over to the people carrier. It was locked of course but Tia had a fob and with a click the doors unlocked, this time Wade got behind the wheel.

Pressing the start button she gunned the engine sure the 2 men would hear it and out they ran Ford in the lead, face white with fury and eyes like diamonds. He saw her as she saw him and she read pure hatred on his expression, a murderous rage. He took out a Glock just as she reversed out of the space and changed gears, a bullet clanged off the chassis.

"Get down," she told Tia as a second bullet spider webbed a side window. Forward gear, foot down and they were off, a third shot webbed the big back window and a fourth chewed into the body work.

Then Ford and Cox were shrinking behind her, the latter yammering away into his phone, the former taking a sprint forward to fire a fifth shot which missed. Keep going Andrea told herself just drive and don't stop.

"Did we make it," Tia looked up from the foot well of the passenger side?

Maybe thought Wade, "Is there a phone in this thing?"

"Yeah built into the dash, who do you want me to call?"

Wade knew several Met numbers off by heart, she gave Tia one, she needed to speak to a senior officer a DCI at least and she knew the one who'd help her.

A discordant and ear piercing buzz came from the dash, damn the signal was being blocked, "Turn it off," she said.

"What's wrong, what was that noise," her sidekick asked?

"The opposition are blocking us, they must have one hell of a transmitter; my mobile wouldn't work either."

"So we can't call your friends for help is that it," Tia sat up in her seat?

"No at least not at the moment, it seems we're on our own so I'm going to drive to the nearest nick," she asked the GPS where this was and received directions from a female robot. They were twenty minutes from safety and she knew a lot could go wrong in that time.

At least there were no cars or vans approaching up ahead, Ford's cohorts weren't coming just yet and she wondered who they were, it was clear Roger had no loyalty to anyone except to himself.

Tia had her phone out, "I need to call dad and tell him what's going on what a snake DI Ford really is."

Wade didn't try to stop the girl she understood her motives, Kenny should know it would serve Ford right. Amazingly the kid got a signal, how come she could and I can't Andrea wondered?

"Dad it's me, no I'm not coming back, no I haven't betrayed you; just listen to me Ford is in league with the enemy he's sold us all out he's one of them," Tia began to cry as an angry voice berated her down the line, "I'm sorry dad but I just want out okay I've had enough of your world."

More shouting and cursing and then...a gunshot a single report sharp and loud.

"Dad," Tia cried, "Dad are you there are you okay?

Silence, eerie and scary then a new voice cool and cold and arrogant.

"Sorry love," it was Ford, "Daddy can't come to the phone at the moment is that bitch Wade with you," he didn't pause, "You can't escape Andrea you're wasting your time, there's no way out not from these people."

Fucking bastard she thought as her hands tightened on the wheel, "Drop dead Roj," she retorted.

"I think that's your next move love; the whole area is sealed off and the team are moving in."

"Going to keep you alive are they Roj, surely you know too much you're a loose end and we both know what happens to them."

"Oh I'm fireproof Andrea, my deal is cast iron," he sounded so smug so full of himself she wanted to go back just to shoot him.

"Funny Roj I can't see your mates anywhere, are you sure they are...," a loud bang and the car veered perilously to the left before it began to bump alarmingly, a tyre had been shot out the front right and she knew they wouldn't be going much further.

Unable to see the sniper she brought the people carrier to a juddering halt and checked her Glock, Tia had a Glock to and she produced this from her shoulder bag.

"Out quickly and keep low," said Wade.

"How do we get away now," the young girl shuddered her face like milk.

"Help is on the way," Andrea assured her, "I hope."

"What help, what do you mean, who's going to help us now?"

Door open Wade dropped to the ground in a low crouch, another crack was followed by a thud and a hole appeared in her car door inches from her hand. Rolling under the car warmed by its heat and grad to get out of the rain she reached Tia who was kneeling down on the other side.

"Trust me I'm not working alone."

Tia's wide eyes, pale features and trembling limbs were not reassured, "I can't see any good guys on the horizon," she said.

No thought Wade neither can I as she chewed down on a false molar and risked a peak, no further shots came but up ahead on the road two vans trundle into view and ahead of them leading the way was a very familiar motorbike.

Tia almost retched, "We're fucked now," she said.

Looking around to see where they were and what was available, Andrea saw some squat buildings, piles of brick, burned out car wrecks and heaps of old tyres.

"Maybe not," she pointed, "There's plenty of cover."

"But what use is that," Tia panicked close to complete meltdown, "There are too many of them."

"We have to stay positive and focused," even if the situation did look hopeless and they were out gunned, "Follow me, zigzag and don't stop for any reason," she ordered, "In three okay," she counted down three, two, one and ran, Tia shot forwards as well and they sprinted side by side to a low block of bricks.

It seemed to take forever and she expected a fusillade of fire but there wasn't any; not a single shot. The two vans kept coming, trundling along and rattling over the uneven ground. The biker shot past without even pausing and he kept going, an AK hugging his left shoulder.

Once they were level the two vans slowed and stopped, one in front of the people carrier and one behind it, men began to get out, masked, armed and disciplined a tough seasoned combat unit. They might have been a Special Forces team behind enemy lines.

Wade counted ten no a dozen of them all pros all killers all coming for her and Tia; just great what a mess to be sat in the middle of.

"We're dead," Tia wiped her eyes with a sleeve.

"Not yet," forcing herself to be upbeat Andrea chewed on the false molar again, she bit down help, help she chewed help, help. Hopefully somebody was listening and paying attention, somebody she could trust.

Tia gulped, How can we fight them, there are too many?"

Yes probably Wade was thinking, "Where's the fuel tank on the people carrier," she asked?

"What err left side near the back over the tyre?"

She took aim, the hunters were clustered in a tight ball and soon they were fan out so she'd only get one shot at this.

Gun in both fists she willed herself to stop shaking and relax to remember her training, how good she'd been on the range. Stay calm stay focused you can do this, treat it as target practise.

Over the tyre, she could visualise it, keep your aim steady.

She fired one two, again one two holing the chassis. The hunters jerked with shock, bent their knees and raised their guns.

With a bright eye burning flash of white the people carrier exploded, erupting into a fiery ball of gas and flame then came the loud blast and the flying debris bits of metal and glass thousands of deadly cutting darts.

Pushing Tia down Wade compressed her own body into a tight ball of muscle and tissue as the big car ripped itself apart throwing the hunter sin all directions like bendy toys, igniting their masks, pants and Kevlar, destroying guns, limbs and torsos.

Never had Wade done anything more satisfying with a gun turning the Glock into a bazooka. Ears ringing and nose full of fuel stench she felt her eyes tear over and her head throb with the pressure of the blast.

Bits of dust and glass flew overhead, some hit the building nearby with a loud clatter, a tyre shot passed to her left it was on fire until it splashed into the river to steam and deflate.

She could hear screams, moans, curses and weeping but she felt no pity why should she, these were killers who would have shot her and Tia without a qualm.

It was a full minute before she dared to look up and even then she couldn't see much beyond smoke, flames and dust.

Tia unfolded herself, "Oh my god," she whimpered, "It worked."

Maybe thought Wade let's just wait a moment and see, they might not all be dead the guy on the bike wasn't and Ford wasn't either.

Letting several long seconds pass without returning gunfire or voice she stood up, gun still held tightly in both fists ready to use in a second's notice.

The smoke was clearing revealing carnage, bodies everywhere flung hither and yon, none were moving or moaning, "Tia," she called, "I think it's okay," she blinked then turned wondering where Tia was.

Ford stood there his gun pointed at Tia's head, an arm around her neck his expression like flint, blood spatters on his cuffs but it wasn't his blood, "Drop it Andrea," he said with forced calm she could tell he was rattled by his breathing, his shocked expression and the doubt in those small eyes.

DI Roger Ford was afraid; he was out of his comfort zone he was on the ropes.

"No," she said surprising herself.

"Drop it or I drop Tia," she knew he could that he was capable.

"Like you dropped her dad you mean," the Glock was aimed right at Ford steady in her hands?

"Kenny was an old man he'd outlived his usefulness; his era was over."

She saw Tia flinch at this her lips tighten and eyes harden, "You killed my dad?"

"It was him or me Tia I had to be practical."

"You're going to kill both of us as well aren't you," Andrea demanded, "We're loose threads."

"You're no threat to me, I'm flying out of the UK never to return and you'll never find me never extradite me."

If anyone knew how to disappear it was this man especially with a nice fat wad of illicit cash. Wade shook her head, no way said the shake I'm not letting it happen.

Ford smiled, "Be sensible DS Wade there's nothing you can do if you fire your gun you'll hit Tia and I know you don't want to do that such a lovely girl, the apple of her daddy's eye."

If she lost her gun Ford would shoot her and kill Tia anyway, "You forget Roj I know you and what you're capable of, we've worked together for too long," gun up a notch she shifted her stance slightly she'd only get one chance at this.

Ford considered her words his face hardening as he sensed she wasn't going to back down then he said, "Oh all right," and he shot her, his gun turning her way and barking. Tia's out flung arm was the only thing that saved Wade's life because Roger Ford didn't miss he was too good.

Tia went one way and he went the other, Wade bent her knees, clenched her teeth and made her choice. She fired and Ford gasped a she went down, a new red stain on his shirt flesh and bright, liquid and crimson.

He wasn't dead she could see him breathing, rasping, blood in his mouth his eyes blinking as he touched himself getting moist fingers.

He looked at her amazed even outraged, "you bitch," he gasped bringing his own weapon back into play. She kicked it from his grasp and stood over him gun pointed down hot and smoking.

"Kill him," Tia screamed, "Shoot him like he shot my dad."

Tempting, she almost did but if she did it would make her the same as this reptile. She met his gaze and held it, coughing he rested his head on the shale. It was a nasty looking wound but probably not fatal, not if he had quick medical treatment.

She heard it then the distant symphony the approaching chorus the warbles and cries, the two tone aria; the cavalry was coming by road and air by track and rotor.

"Shoot me," Ford croaked.

"Fuck you," she said turning away from him and going to Tia, "He's not worth it," she told the girl.

"Give me the gun then," said through tears but Wade put the safety on she was done killing for one day, "You're under arrest," she said and read the injured man his rights.

EPILOGUE

Sitting back, hand son his swelling paunch the DAC didn't look much like a rugby prop now but he had been and a good one, captain of his varsity championship team back in the day.

"We've still no idea who they worked for," he grunted meaning the kill squad, "Those able to talk aren't doing so; probably got family back home they're protecting. From the accents I'd say they're Eastern European, probably hired by the Russian mob although we'll never prove it."

Rubbing his eyes Gareth regarded the woman sat before him, a good cop he thought, brave and smart real potential to climb higher.

"Where does this leave me," she asked not unreasonably, "I mean they were after me as well as Roger so I have to assume I'm still a target?"

He tended to agree, "As I see it you have three choices Andrea you can stay as you are and tough it out hoping they won't come after you."

Her expression told him how unlikely this was so he moved on.

"We can transfer you to a new unit in a different area, new name if you like and that might work if we muddy the trail and doctor your personnel file."

Andrea sniffed not jumping at this either, so Gareth said.

"You can quit the job altogether and forge a new life outside the police; not something I'd like to see happen as you're a damn good detective but it's your choice and only you can make it."

So basically she stayed where she was and hoped for the best, upped sticks and started again or left the job. She supposed it came down to one major factor; did she still want to be in the job did she see herself as a copper in her thirties and beyond?

"I need time to think about this," she said.

"Of course I'm not rushing you, a decision like this needs a lot of thought but whatever you do in the end I won't think any less of you."

She'd shot her boss shot her DI, nobody on the force was going to forget that it had spread like wildfire there she is right cow shot her guv'nor you'd better watch your back.

Whatever the DAC said it would hang over her like an albatross, people wouldn't forget, coppers (men) would resent her, as if they didn't already. The force was a sexist environment despite recent attempts to clean up its act; women were still just tolerated and some not even that, not those who put a bullet in a DI even if he was bent and a murderer.

Which was why she went to see Ford in hospital. He'd come through the op and was expected to make a good recovery, not full but he wasn't going to be disabled he could function. Then he'd face a trial and probably do time, how much depended on how good his brief was and how hard the CPS tried.

He was in a private room with an armed cop outside, Wade flashed her card at the cop who just grunted back at her oh it's you is it the bitch you plugged her boss.

Wade wondered how much more of this there'd be if she stayed; how the rank and file would react how any new DI would react.

Eyes fixing on her as she entered, Ford was propped up on some pillows surrounded by cards, a forest of them all from cops a mark of his reputation even now. All were 'get well' or 'good luck' some were even 'sorry to hear' like Ford was an innocent victim; was this how he was perceived by some?

"You've got a bloody nerve," he grunted sounding weak but far from defeated, the old arrogance was still there the self-belief, "Come to apologise?"

Typical Ford take the initiative and never back down, she met his gaze, "No I bloody well haven't," she could be blunt to.

"No card or chocolates," he had plenty to eat chocs, sweets, grapes even a few bottles of plonk?

"Just came to say goodbye," she didn't sit down as she wasn't staying this wasn't a social call.

"Going somewhere," he asked brashly?

"I think we both are Roger," no need to use rank now he was suspended and for the first time she saw it – doubt, fear, uncertainty – the mask slipped a little to expose vulnerability.

"Where are you going Wade another division, up north maybe?"

She almost told him almost, "That's my business; I just wanted to ask you one thing why did you do it, why did you flush your career down the drain? Was it just the money a big wedge of cash and a sunny beach?"

He regarded her, a man on the way down his reputation ruined and his career over at least as a cop whatever happened at his trial.

"I did it," he said after a pause, "Because I could."

Was that it; was that his reasoning his motive just because he could? "I don't believe you," she said.

"Your prerogative," he shrugged eyes flicking away. He was lying she realised still lying, had he ever told her the truth did he know it himself?

"You did it just for the hell of it, to get a buzz; am I supposed to believe such crap do you think I'm so stupid," she felt insulted and let down but what had she expected a full confession a bearing of the soul?

"No I don't think you're stupid Andrea, but I do think you're going to die and probably very soon," the eyes flicked back, "You'll not walk away from this."

A threat, he was threatening her, "Watch me," she said turning and heading for the door not having any more to say to him.

"They'll find you Wade, I'll make sure they do," an empty promise? She wondered.

She had to be around for his trial to give testimony but after that...after that her life was her own to do with as she chose. She'd made her decision and picked one of the three options the DAC had offered; in the end it was the only one that made sense.