Ryan Kaine is on the hunt…
Setting out to teach an abusive husband a lesson, Danny Pinkerton quickly finds himself surrounded by a crime family that stretches back to Győr in Hungary.
Outgunned and outnumbered, Pinkerton turns to his closest friend, Ryan Kaine.
In a story that travels across Europe and pushes Kaine and Pinkerton to the very edge of survival, On The Hunt is a test of friendship and bond that neither man is prepared to fail.
Even if the outcome is fatal.
If you like Lee Child, Mark Dawson and Robert Ludlum, you’re going to find the Ryan Kaine series compulsively addictive.
Wednesday 3rd May – Danny Pinkerton
Chequer Way, Amber Valley, Derbyshire, UK
Danny had only seen the woman for a few seconds. At the time, he didn’t know her name or anything about her, but her bruised and bloodshot eyes and the fear expressed in them drew his attention.
She’d been in the front passenger seat of a white Range Rover stuck in traffic, two miles from the Aspire Hospital, Nottingham—a traffic jam caused by the failed attempt on Melanie Archer’s life.
In those few brief moments, the injured woman’s plight had touched Danny’s heart.
He’d been trudging along the side of the road, dressed like a vagrant in ripped jeans and a grubby polo shirt, covered in someone else’s blood, but when she’d looked at him through those bruised and swollen eyes, he couldn’t let it go. The metal splint taped to her nose confirmed her as a woman in discomfort.
At first, he assumed she’d just left the Aspire following a nose job, but the way she reacted to her driver’s aggressive proximity fired off warning bells in Danny’s head. Then, after a brief exchange of words, the driver had raced away in the Range Rover, ignoring Danny’s request for a lift and leaving him standing in the driving rain. But as the driver made the turn, he showed Danny the SUV’s tailgate and the cherished licence number it carried, RNP 111.
During his sodden jog to the hospital, Danny contacted Corky, and it had taken the talented hacker mere seconds to identify the SUV’s registered owner, one Robert Neil Prentiss. Corky also provided the man’s home address and the name of his wife—Marian Jennifer Prentiss.
Deep in the Amber Valley, twenty miles northwest of Derby, Chequer Way stood pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but Danny’s slow, overnight drive-by had shown him plenty.
The security wall running along the front of the pretentiously named “Prentiss House” stretched out for a little over one hundred and fifty metres. The only gap in the brickwork allowed for a grand entrance, flanked by stone pillars that were crowned with prancing horses carved from white marble. Recessed from the road by a short gravel driveway, a pair of electrically-operated wrought iron gates protected the opening, defending the floodlit home from whatever rampaging hordes the owners most feared.
Behind the gates, Prentiss House—more a mansion than a working farmhouse—stood in all its glory. Sandstone walls shone bright under the orange floodlights. Imposing and expensive.
Pompous or what?
Danny didn’t need to be hit over the head with a lump of sandstone to recognise valuable real estate when he saw it. No doubt about it, Robert Prentiss was loaded.
Didn’t give him the right to beat his wife, though.
No bloody way.
So, Danny asked himself, now he’d made the trip, what was he going to do?
He couldn’t exactly breach the fortress, knock on the front door, and ask the householder how long he’d been beating his wife. No way. There could only be one response to such a question.
Prentiss would refute the charge and dismiss Danny from the grounds. The bugger might even call the police and try to have Danny arrested. And where would that leave the possible victim? No, such a bumbling, half-arsed approach might even make the situation worse for Marian Prentiss.
Danny needed proof.
Not the same level of proof required by the UK’s stodgy legal system. Oh no. He just needed enough to convince himself of the rich man’s guilt. Then, and only then, would Prentiss receive his lesson.
Only then would the bastard learn what it felt like to be on the receiving end of a thumping.
Danny parked his leased, mid-range BMW 3-Series in a layby two miles to the north, returned on foot under the cover of darkness, and completed a surreptitious circuit of the defensive wall. He found another opening at the rear barred by a pair of solid wooden gates, which he scaled with ease. Keeping to the deep shadow, Danny skirted around to the front of the house and found a row of rhododendron bushes where the wall formed a corner, then dropped to his haunches.
Inside the wall, landscaped gardens to the front, rear, and sides showed the intensive work of someone with green fingers. Mainly set to lawns and with well-stocked herbaceous borders, the grounds at the rear contained numerous outbuildings, including a detached triple garage, a large greenhouse, and two small wooden sheds.
Danny’s hiding spot gave him a good view of the house’s frontage and most of the rear. He settled in for the long haul, his back propped against the cold brickwork. He grew colder by the minute, but the memory of Marian Prentiss’ bruised and battered face warmed him and drove him on. What was a little discomfort compared to her injuries?
He rolled his shoulders, stretched his neck, and pointed the Zeiss Victory SF 8x42 binoculars—the one piece of surveillance equipment he hadn’t forgotten—at the front of the house, making the most of the floodlights’ illumination.
The entrance portico—two white-painted columns supporting a triangular canopy—aimed for impressive but only hit excessive and ostentatious. Two steps led up to a semi-circular floor covered in black and white tiles laid out in a chessboard pattern. Double doors, panelled and painted black in a high-gloss finish, wore wrought iron furniture. Two huge lionheads with thick metal rings in their mouths acted as knockers. Two more formed the handles. Raised iron rivets fastened enormous wrought iron hinges into the woodwork, trying to give the impression of a drawbridge.
Fuck’s sake, what a mess.
Danny raked the binoculars across the façade, looking for security cameras or motion-activated spots, but found none. He returned the binoculars to his small rucksack and settled back to wait.
At 01:30 hours the floodlights powered off, plunging his world into blackness. It left Danny blind and immobile until his natural night vision took over. While waiting for the house to sleep and before venturing out of his obbo point to take a closer look, Danny replayed his most recent conversation with Corky.
Behind the wheel of the BMW on his way towards Amber Valley, Danny cleared his throat before tapping the comms unit in his ear.
“Hi Corky, what you got for me, over.”
“Plenty, Danny-boy. Plenty. Whatcha need first?”
Danny grinned. If he hung around for Corky to comply with correct comms protocol, he’d be waiting forever.
“Names and bios will do for a start, over.”
“Corky sent them to your mobile half an hour ago.”
“I’m driving. Can you give me the bullet points, please? Over.”
“Yeah, okay. Sure. Like, why not. After all, it ain’t like Corky’s not got a million other things to do, is it?”
“Sorry Corky,” Danny said, slapping some life into his cheeks. “I appreciate all your efforts, mate. I really do. Hoped you’d save me a little time, is all—”
“Nah, just joshing, Danny-boy. Corky’s happy to oblige. Just a sec.”
To Danny’s surprise, the active map on the dashboard’s GPS screen shrank into a corner, and Corky’s round and bearded face took its place.
He nearly lost control of the BMW.
How the tech genius achieved the trick, Danny would never know. Corky was able to do things beyond the scope of even the most gifted military techies.
Apart from the small-scale map, the screen behind Corky showed nothing but a white wall, which made a change from the usual panoramic view of sea and sky he preferred.
“Whatcha, Danny,” Corky said, his cheeks fattening into a grin. “Much better speaking face to face, yeah?”
Danny returned the grin. “Sure is.”
“This way, we don’t need none of that ‘over and out’ bullshit, neither.”
“If you say so, Corky.”
The GPS map indicated a left turn in eight hundred metres, and Danny slowed to make the manoeuvre.
“Didn’t know these consoles had built-in cameras.”
Without bothering to indicate—no cars about to make it necessary—Danny turned left, straightened the wheel and fed more fuel into the engine. The big BMW surged ahead.
“You’d be surprised what the manufacturers hide inside their ‘infotainment systems’, Danny-boy. These days, Big Brother is always watching you.”
Big Brother and Corky!
But at least Corky was benign.
“Okay,” Dany said, moving things along, “so who exactly is our target?”
“Robert Neil Prentiss, aged thirty-six. Owns Prentiss Haulage Limited, and operates from a distribution centre on the outskirts of Derby. Likes to call himself, ‘Robbie P’. That’s the geezer on the screen right now.”
Corky pointed over his shoulder and a colour headshot of a man emerged on the white background. Strong face, square jaw, light brown eyes. Some might say good-looking. Danny tried to match the image with the driver of the Range Rover from the previous afternoon, but it didn’t really work.
In the headshot, Robbie P had short hair, was clean shaven, and the smile reached his eyes. The headshot made him seem warm and friendly, but looks could be deceptive.
“How old’s that picture?”
Corky shrugged. “Dunno when it were taken, but that pic were uploaded to the company’s website three months back. Why?”
Danny sniffed. “Bloke I saw driving the Range Rover had long dark hair and a beard. Didn’t get a clear sight of him through the tinted windows, though. Might be the same guy, I guess. You couldn’t find anything more recent?”
Corky pinched his lips together and shook his head. “Nah, not really. Corky found a few publicity shots of Robbie P when he opened a distribution centre in Hungary eighteen months back, but the quality’s poor and there aren’t none any newer than that online. By the way, his hair were short in them pics, too. And he didn’t have no beard.”
“Find anything interesting on the wife?”
“Nothing much. Marian Jennifer Prentiss. Maiden name, Turvey. Aged twenty-eight. They’ve been married five years. No kids yet. She’s got herself a degree in Fine Arts from Nottingham Trent University.”
“Anything worrying in her medical history?”
“Didn’t find nothing in her NHS records.”
“No emergency admissions for unexplained injuries? Broken bones? Facial trauma?”
“Er, nope.” Another headshake.
“What about the damage I saw to her face yesterday? No record of that on the Aspire’s records?”
Corky scrunched his mobile face into a wince. He almost seemed embarrassed. “Yeah, now that’s where Corky’s had a little bother. As you know, for some reason, the Aspire’s computer systems fell over last night.”
“You don’t say.” Danny couldn’t prevent the irony invading his voice.
Danny knew all about the Aspire’s computer troubles. He knew, because he’d asked Corky to disable their IT infrastructure long enough for him to break into its dental clinic and “liberate” Melanie Archer’s replacement ceramic crown. The same ceramic crown she’d been paroled from prison for the day to have fitted.
“What happened, Corky? You didn’t break their IT system, did you?”
“Nah, ’course not. It ain’t nothing to do with Corky, and it ain’t permanent, neither. The hospital’s IT service provider is running a system-wide diagnostic sweep on account of the unplanned shutdown. Just means that Corky can’t interrogate the system right now. At least, not safely.”
Danny relaxed into his seat.
“How long are you going to be locked out?”
Corky’s wince transformed into a deep scowl. “Now listen here, Danny-boy. What part of that explanation said Corky were locked out? Corky ain’t never been locked out of a computer system in his life! Bloody insulting, that is.”
Keeping a straight face and concentrating on the road ahead, Danny raised a hand in apology. “Sorry Corky. Didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Locked out! Ain’t no way Corky’s locked out. He’s keeping his distance for security purposes, that’s all. Get it? Any outside interference on the Aspire’s systems at this stage will lead to questions Corky don’t want no one asking. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Corky. It’s clear. I get it. And again, I’m sorry. Any idea how long the systems are likely to be inaccessible?”
“The idiots are taking their time over the security scan. They say it’ll be down ’til at least midday. Typical. If Corky were running the systems check, it would already be done.”
Danny nodded. “I understand. Can’t be helped. Until then we’re blind, yes?”
The chubby hacker’s cheeky grin returned. “On the other hand, Corky did discover who provides the Mr and Mrs Prentiss with their medical insurance. It’s a company called Notts Private Health Services. Seems they agreed to cover the costs of ‘emergency treatment’ at the Aspire Hospital under Robbie P’s account. Apparently, two nights ago, she tripped and fell down the stairs. Broke her nose and right cheekbone.”
Danny clenched his fists and tried not to grind his teeth. “The bastard hit her.”
Corky tilted his head to one side in agreement. “Looks that way. What you gonna do?”
“Corky hates wifebeaters. You gonna give the guy a good thumping?” the hacker asked, excitement shining bright in his eyes.
“Probably, but I need to do some obbo first. I want to be certain of my facts.”
“The facts seem clear enough to old Corky.”
“Maybe, but I’m not in the habit of turning people over without proof. Before doing anything serious, I’ll try to get Marian on her own. It would be good to hear her side of the story. You never know, her injuries might well have been accidental.” Danny tried to sound convincing, but failed miserably. He happened to be as certain as Corky of Robbie P’s guilt.
“So, anything else you need from old Corky?”
“A layout of the house would be useful?”
“More ‘bullet points’?”
Corky coughed into his hand. “Okay, here you go.” His gaze slid to the left and he started reading, probably from another monitor. “The architect’s plans are online and Corky’s been taking a shufti. Robbie P started renovating the house six years ago, right after they moved in and renamed the place. The house has two storeys and an attic. Ground floor’s got three receptions, a home office, a sun room, and a kitchen with utility room. First floor has four bedrooms, two with en suites, and a family bathroom. The attic has planning permission for a granny annex, but the work stopped three years ago. Dunno why. Maybe the bugger ran out of money.”
“Can you find out?”
Corky winked. “Next thing on the to-do list, Danny-boy. Corky reckons Prentiss Haulage Limited might have stretched their finances a bit thin when they opened that satellite hub in Hungary. Seems to be something fishy going on there. Like, who chooses chuffing Hungary for their base of operations? Hardly the epicentre of the European haulage trade. Ain’t that many routes to and from the major agriculture or manufacturing centres, you know.”
“You’ll keep searching, I imagine?”
“If there’s anything iffy going on, Corky’s gonna find it.”
The BMW’s headlights dipped automatically as its sensors registered the dazzling full-beams of an approaching vehicle. Danny squinted and waited for the ignorant prick to pass before speaking again.
“Don’t suppose Prentiss House has a burglar alarm or surveillance system you can hack into?”
Corky shook his head and his expression turned glum. “Nah, ’fraid not. They got an alarm and a CCTV setup, but it ain’t hooked up to the web, at least not yet. Corky can’t give you ears or eyes inside the house without splicing directly into the system. And there ain’t no way that’s happening any time soon.”
“Okay, mate. I’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. Thanks for everything. I’ll find a spot inside the grounds and lie doggo for a while. If and when Robbie P heads out to work in the morning, it’ll give me a chance to ask Marian about his behaviour. Assuming he leaves her home alone.”
“Good luck with that, Danny-boy. Corky’s off now.” He chuckled, faded away, and the GPS map expanded to fill the screen again.
Slowly, one by one, the stars blinked out and a pale dawn washed away the darkness of night.
Danny shivered, the morning dew had long since soaked through his clothes, and the chill had worked its way into every joint of his body. Should have come better prepared. A groundsheet would have helped, but no point crying about that now. Wasn’t as though he could call on anyone for help, either. For the first time in years, he was operating solo, which felt both good and bad. Good, to have no one questioning his actions or monitoring his performance. Bad, to have no one to bounce ideas off, not even the captain.
What had originally seemed like the most obvious thing in the world—save the girl, punish the arsehole—had turned into hours of waiting in the perishing cold. Hours of double-guessing and doubt.
Earlier, his post-floodlight searches hadn’t added to his small pool of knowledge. Peering through windows and pressing his ear to the glass achieved nothing. Heavy curtains hid the view inside, and double-glazed windows on the ground level prevented all sounds filtering through into the night. A complete bust.
He’d been deaf and blind to whatever was going on inside Prentiss House and had failed to add to Corky’s intel.
A thermal imaging camera might have told him how many people were in the house and where they slept, but he’d forgotten to pack one in his haste to “save the damsel in distress”. Another bloody mistake. One of many. No groundsheet, no parabolic microphone, no infrared or night vision glasses, no nothing. Damn it, he wasn’t even armed.
What did Rollo used to say? “Fail to prepare and you might as well prepare to fail, laddie.” Yep, the team’s quartermaster wasn’t averse to spouting the odd platitude or three.
And anyway, why the hell would he need a weapon?
Danny faced nothing but a wifebeater. A bully and a coward, not a Taliban insurgent, and Danny knew how to handle bullies.
Around him, the dawn chorus welcomed the onset of day and the temperature rose with the sun. With the minimum of movement, Danny loosened his joints and warmed his muscles in preparation for whatever the morning would bring.
Before him, Prentiss House remained silent. The curtains hid what went on behind the ground floor windows, and shutters covered those on the upper two floors.
Once again, Danny waited.
The middle of the three high-security garage doors rolled up to expose the gleaming white and ludicrously expensive Range Rover 5.0 V8. Brand new, the top-of-the-range beastie would have set Robbie P back more than £130,000. The powerful monster’s engine growled in smooth anger. White exhaust fumes spewed from the tailpipe, and the SUV pulled slowly out of the garage and into the daylight, some thirty-five metres from where Danny hid amongst the rhododendrons.
Finally, after damn near seven hours freezing his nuts off, Danny had movement.
He allowed himself a little fist pump.
Here we go!
The Range Rover rolled forwards and stopped outside the grand front entrance, purring, waiting for release. Behind it, the garage door rolled down and clunked into place. The driver’s door popped open and a swarthy man with long wavy hair and a trimmed beard climbed out. Slightly below average height but powerfully built, the man wore a dark business suit, white shirt, muted brown tie, and polished leather shoes. He bore a striking resemblance to the driver from the previous afternoon.
Yep, the same guy he saw driving the Range Rover yesterday afternoon.
Danny raised the binoculars, focused them on the man. Pale blue eyes shone out of a weather-beaten face.
Can’t be right.
Danny tweaked the knurled nut of the binoculars’ focus adjuster to sharpen the image further. Yep, the driver’s eyes were definitely blue.
Definitely not Prentiss.
The headshot Corky had thrown up on the BMW’s infotainment screen showed Robbie P with light brown eyes, not blue, and Corky’s bio confirmed it. The bio also stated that Robbie P stood at nearly six foot two, but the driver was no more than five nine.
What the hell was going on?
The swarthy man, Driver, glowered at the closed front doors and peeled back the sleeve of his jacket to reveal a heavy gold watch. He all but tapped his foot on the gravel in his impatience.
Driver waited another thirty seconds before shouting something guttural in a language Danny didn’t understand. Moments later, one of the front doors opened and a second man in a business suit stumbled out, propelled by the stiff-armed punch of a third man.
The man in the suit bunted into one of the columns supporting the portico’s canopy and fell to his hands and knees.
The third man stayed in the open doorway. He wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt under a sleeveless denim vest. Squat with a shaved head, his muscular arms and thick neck were covered in black ink—prison tats.
Tats shouted, “Idióta,” and coughed out a harsh laugh.
With his back to Danny, the fallen man scrambled to his feet. He raised his hands to Tats, shouted, “Don’t hurt her. Please don’t hurt her again!” and spun towards Driver, finally showing his face to Danny.
In that instant, Danny realised his mistake. Robbie P was no more a wifebeater than Ryan Kaine was a terrorist.
What the flaming hell had he stumbled into?