Ryan Kaine is On the Lookout…
Alone on a hilltop, protecting the people he owes the most, a silent net is closing in on Ryan Kaine.
In an age of facial recognition and constant electronic surveillance, Kaine is struggling to keep a step ahead of the world’s security agencies.
But when a child, orphaned by flight BE1555, needs The 83 Trust’s help, Kaine has to find a way.
In deepest Wales, he and his team are the only people between a gang of violent thieves and the boy’s new family.
But while Kaine looks out for the boy, who’s looking out for him?
A pulse-racing episode in the compelling Ryan Kaine series.
Monday 22nd May –Early Morning
Cardiff Airport, South Wales, UK
Kaine settled his Bergen more comfortably on one shoulder, descended the steps of the ESAPP Gulfstream G550,and stepped out onto the blustery apron of Cardiff Airport’s private runway. He hooked his long hair behind his ears to prevent the breeze blowing the curly strands into his unprotected eyes.
A trim fifty-something man wearing steel-rimmed glasses, a full peppered beard, and a smart UK Border Force uniform complete with its peaked cap, awaited him in the shadow of the airport building. The epaulettes on his dark blue dress shirt sported three silver pips, and he had the straight-backed, stiff-shouldered bearing of a military man.
Kaine braced himself, scanned the area, but found little to concern him unduly. Little apart from the prominently placed surveillance cameras and the border guard himself.
Take it easy. Nothing to worry about here.
He’d crossed country borders often enough since the nightmare began. No reason to worry unnecessarily.
“Welcome to Cardiff, Major Griffin,” the man said, his flat accent marking him as hailing from the West Midlands rather than South Wales. “I’m Senior Officer Greenly. Do you have any baggage, sir?”
“Just this,” Kaine answered, patting the Bergen’s webbing strap, trying his best to adopt the aloof detachment of the well-heeled international jetsetter. “I like to travel light,” he added.
Greenly eased out a thin, patient smile. “Very good, sir. If you’ll follow me to the private lounge, we can expedite your entry into the UK.”
“Thank you. Has my wife arrived?”
The border guard nodded. “Mrs Griffin and your driver are waiting in the arrivals lounge, sir.”
“Excellent,” Kaine said, nodding absently, but surprised by the nervous anticipation rippling through his gut.
How would Lara greet him after he dumped her in Paris? He’d find out soon enough.
Deep breath, Kaine.
Greenly turned and led Kaine towards the shiny glass automatic doors marked, Private –Arrivals. “You do have your passport handy, sir?”
“Of course.” Not even multimillionaires with access to private jets could cross oceans and enter new countries without the correct paperwork. Fortunately, Kaine had landed in the UK with the best forged documentation money could buy. The passport he carried gave his name as William Griffin, a retired Major in the Royal Marines, and the platinum credit cards in his wallet suggested he could buy anything he wanted, no matter the cost. Who needed luggage when they could walk into any clothing store in the country and empty its shelves? His documentation had already passed muster at borders a number of times, but this would be the last time Kaine would use the Griffin persona. It was time to drop the middle-aged former marine permanently. This particular legend had outlived its usefulness.
Greenly stepped aside, gestured with an open hand, and allowed Kaine to enter the comfortably warm and pleasantly quiet confines of the private customs area first. No bullet-resistant screens required to protect the border guards in such rarefied and deep-pile-carpeted domain. A waft of scented air tickled his nose—sandalwood and spice—relaxing, calming. Subtle.
How the top one percent live.
Kaine’s guide marched to the far side of a polished-marble-topped counter and smiled almost apologetically. He held out a hand, adopting the pose of a waiter requesting a tip. Simulating bored disinterest but keeping his senses primed, Kaine removed the passport from the inner pocket of his crushed, faded denim jacket and passed it over the counter. Greenly opened the booklet to the picture page, studied the photo carefully and narrowed his eyes to peer directly at Kaine. Without taking his eyes from Kaine, he angled his head to one side and frowned, in what? Recognition?
He’d become too blasé. Kaine’s heart leapt, his mouth dried, and the world closed in around him. His hand reached up to the strap of his Bergen, making ready to drop it and lighten his load if he had to take off. Slowly, without making it obvious, he glanced around the open space, searching for the fastest route of egress. To his right, automatic sliding glass doors led through to a thinly populated departures lounge and, eventually, to the sunny outside. Possible, but he’d have to run the gauntlet of airport security. Armed airport security.
Directly behind Greenly, a single unmarked door would lead into the bowels of the building, probably an office complex.
No escape there.
Turning back the way they’d entered would take him out onto the apron and the runway. He might be able to find a hiding place in the storerooms and hangars, but how long would it take an experienced search team to find him? And, at an airport, how many doors would be unsecured and unalarmed? Precious few.
Bluff it out, Kaine. He doesn’t recognise you. He can’t.
“Is there a problem, Officer Greenly?” Kaine asked, allowing impatience and a little anger to rumble through the words. Well-heeled travellers weren’t prepared to wait for anyone. Let alone a jumped-up jobsworth.
“Not at all, Major Griffin,” Greenly said, taking his time to answer. “It’s just that your photo—”
“Yes, yes. It’s different, I know,” Kaine interrupted, scowling, and raking his fingers though the unruly mop. “I’ve been out of the country for a while, and I don’t let anyone touch my hair except for Nicky.”
Greenly lifted an eyebrow. “Nicky?”
“Oh dear, really?” Kaine snapped, allowing exasperation to bleed into his voice. “‘Nicky’. As in, ‘Nicky C’. The man who happens to be the best hair stylist in the UK. Bar none.”
“Is he, sir?”
“Yes. The very best. I wouldn’t let anyone else near my hair with a pair of scissors.”
“And your beard, sir?” Greenly fingered his well-maintained facial hair.
Kaine scratched the fur on his chin. “A newly acquired fashion statement I intend to ask Nicky to tidy up the moment I reach London.” He raised an arm, tugged back the cuff of his jacket, and scowled at his watch.
Steady, Kaine. Don’t overdo it.
Again, Greenly took his time to do his thing. Kaine relaxed a little. The man hadn’t recognised him. Greenly simply relished his role as defender of the gates of the principality. He was the voice of the poor and the oppressed, doing what he could to rail against the rich and the self-absorbed.
Greenly studied the passport photo again.
“Officer Greenly,” Kaine said, teeth clenched. “Do I really need to buy a pair of scissors and head for the restroom?”
Greenly showed Kaine a mirthless smile. “No, sir. Of course not, sir. That won’t be necessary. And it’s Senior Officer Greenly, sir.” He tapped the pips on his epaulettes with an index finger, wrinkled his nose, and held the passport under a scanner far longer than strictly necessary before handing it back. “Everything’s in order, sir.”
“Yes, I know it is,” Kaine grumbled. “Which way out?”
“That way, sir.” The rail-thin jobsworth pointed to Kaine’s right.
“Thank you, Senior Officer Greenly,” Kaine said, gracing the officious border guard with a forced smile. “Thank you very much.”
Dial it back, man.
Kaine turned towards the exit and released a pent-up breath. He stepped through the sliding doors and the nerves struck again. Unease rippled through his stomach. Not the unease driven by bureaucratic border guards, but something entirely different.
Pack it in, Kaine. You are an idiot!
In his time, he’d faced hordes of angry, evil men hell-bent on doing him nothing but mischief. He’d survived most encounters relatively unscathed, yet there he stood in the comfortable and fragrant customs office, quailing at the prospect of facing an auburn-haired woman who barely tipped the scales at fifty kilos. Although, this particular woman could slice open his innards and stop his heart with the merest hint of a disappointed frown.
What sort of reception would he receive? His last conversation with Lara—the video call aboard the Gulfstream high over a raging north Atlantic—had ended badly. She’d cut him off mid-apology and had refused to answer his repeated attempts to reconnect. She’d also failed to accept any of his ensuing satellite phone calls. It had been the first serious fight in their eight-month relationship, and he hated it. It left his world unbalanced. Yes, the blame for their quarrel lay firmly at his door. He’d ditched her in Paris under the protection of his longest-serving friend, Rollo, and had flown to Arizona without her, and without warning. In his defence, his only motivation had been her safety.
During their curtailed video conference, she’d objected to his decision and called him out on it. He could see her point, though. He really could, but should a similar situation arise, he’d make the same decision again. If Lara couldn’t get past his need to protect her, where did it leave them? She needed to understand that he only had her safety in mind. He’d dragged her kicking and screaming into his world of
6hurt and danger, and he would forever be responsible for her. If anyone ever deliberately hurt her, it would kill him—and he would kill the person responsible. No qualms. No second thoughts. Instant retribution.
Kaine strolled forwards, following the arrows. The double doors slid silently open to reveal a smartly appointed lounge and bar that wouldn’t have disgraced the foyer of a five-star London hotel. After a brief scan of the few people sitting in the heavily upholstered chairs revealed nothing to raise his hackles, he spotted his two-person welcoming committee on the far side of the room. Neither smiled.
Rollo, playing the role of the paid employee, stood dutifully behind apo-faced Lara. She, in a smart, navy blue business skirt suit, stepped forwards to greet him.
“Good flight?” she asked, ice cool, emotionless.
“Very good, thank you,” he answered, matching her aloof manner. If necessary, he could play it cool, too. She offered her cheek, which Kaine duly pecked. When he reached out to pull her into a gentle hug, she stiffened and backed away. How much of the display was an act for public consumption and how much a legacy of their ongoing fight, only time would show.
“Let’s go,” he said. She nodded, turned back the way she’d come, and he strode after her. Once alongside, he crooked an arm for her to grasp, but she ignored it.
Not an act, a legacy.
Kaine sighed. So many fences to mend. Rollo led the way through to the car—a top-of-the-range BMW 7 Series with a cherished plate, E5APP—which he’d parked in one of a few spots reserved for VIPs. He pointed the key fob at the car and pressed a button. The central locking double-clicked, and the indicators flashed. He pressed another button and the boot lid powered open. Rollo stepped forwards and opened the nearside rear door. Lara slipped inside, ignoring Kaine’s outstretched arm and offer of support. Kaine shook his head sadly, slipped the Bergen from his shoulder, and headed for the far side of the car. He paused long enough to lob the Bergen into the open boot, before carrying on to the offside passenger door. He opened the door all by himself and climbed inside.
“That’s a demarcation issue, that is,” Rollo grumbled, barely able to stifle his smile.
“It’s my job to open and close doors for you, sir,” he explained, sounding hurt, but adding a sneaky wink.
“Cut that out, Colour Sergeant,” Kaine snapped. “I’ve had a long flight.” Rollo cracked the driver’s door and slid behind the leather-clad steering wheel. He pressed a button on the dashboard. The boot lid lowered, and the lock clicked.
“A long flight in the lap of luxury,” Rollo said, staring through the rear-view mirror, and staring hard. “We should all suffer such privations. How was the king-sized bed in the Gulfstream, by the way?”
Kaine grinned. He could always rely on Rollo to cut him no slack. “An absolute delight, thanks.” “Egyptian cotton sheets?” “Eight hundred thread count at least.” Kaine shot a sideways glance at Lara, but she kept her head turned away, apparently staring through the passenger window and studying the shadows of the clouds sliding over the distant runway.
“Nice,” Rollo said, continuing the conversation. “Beats the heck out of a military sleeping bag, eh?”
“Yep, they had a thread count of about twenty—and each one static-charged nylon.”
“Decent galley?” Rollo asked, still pushing.
“Better than the usual airline food, thanks. Although I did have to serve myself.”
“Oh dear. Poor you.”
Rollo pressed the ignition button on the dash and the big diesel engine whispered into life. He lowered all four windows before rolling slowly out of the parking spot and heading for the exit road.
“What’s with the windows?” Kaine asked.
“Doctor’s orders.” Rollo jerked a thumb towards Lara, who finally turned to face them.
“Any symptoms?” she asked, referring to the short time he’d spent in the Doomsday Creed’s infirmary, and to his brief but potentially dangerous exposure to an exceptionally virulent form of typhoid.
“None. I’m good, thanks.”
“None so far.” He smiled and double hitched his eyebrows. “Although being this close to you has ...” She scowled and he let the remains of the trite sentence fade into oblivion.
Still scowling, Lara tugged a medical bag from her footwell and rested it on the seat between them, using it as a barrier to keep them apart. She opened the bag, removed an infrared thermometer, and pointed it at his forehead. “Hold still.”
“Anything for you, my guardian angel.” In the front, Rollo snorted. He waited for an automatic barrier to rise before gunning the Beemer’s engine and filtering his way into heavy exit traffic. They tucked in behind a white panel van and ahead of a compact Fiat. The Fiat driver—a long-haired youngster smoking a cigarette—blared his horn. Rollo stuck an arm through the open window and waved in apology and thanks. Shaggy blared the horn again and closed the gap to danger levels.
“Bloke’s an idiot,” Rollo said. “There was plenty of room.”
Kaine nodded. “Doesn’t know who he’s messing with.”
“I told you to keep still,” Lara snapped.
“You will be.”
Seconds later, the thermometer bleeped. Lara read the temperature displayed and returned the device to her bag.
“Normal?” he asked.
“So far,” she answered. Noncommittal. The way of all medics. She fished around inside the bag and removed a blister pack from one of the internal pockets. “Take these with plenty of fluids. You need to stay fully hydrated.” She handed him two tablets and a one-litre bottle of still water.
“What are they?”
“Antibiotics. Five hundred milligrams of ciprofloxacin. You’ll take them twice a day for the next five days. It that clear?”
“Yes, doctor,” he answered in his most serious voice. To confirm his promise, he popped the pills into his mouth and eased them down with half the bottle in three long pulls. “Where are we heading?” Kaine asked, still looking at Lara.
“A place called Glyn Coes,”Lara answered.
“Hmm,” he said, nodding. “What’s at Glyn Coes?”
“Becky and Gwynfor Cadwallader, and their two children, Dewi and Myfanwy.”
The surname didn’t ring any bells.
“Members of The 83?” Kaine asked and she nodded. “I don’t recall seeing a Cadwallader on the list. I’d have remembered a name that distinctive.”
“Gwyn’s widowed sister, Sharon, was ... on the plane,” Lara said, finally making eye contact. “Her surname was Pierce.” Lara’s voice softened in deference to the sensitive nature of the subject matter. They were, after all, talking about the eighty-three innocent people who had lost their lives on Flight BE1555. The eighty-three innocent souls Kaine had killed.
“I see,” he said, forcing out the words. “And the Cadwalladers are Sharon Pierce’s nearest next of kin?” Lara glanced at Rollo through the rear-view mirror. Something passed between them. Something Kaine couldn’t read and didn’t understand. They were holding out on him. Unwilling to interrogate either the woman he loved or his longest-serving friend, he let it pass. They’d tell him what he needed to know, and when he needed to know it. “What’s the issue?” he asked.
“Sheep rustling,” Rollo said. “Amongst other things.”
“Sheep rustling?” Kaine asked, again looking at Lara, trying not to appear dismissive.
“There’s more to it than that, Ryan. Much more.”
“Rollo, how long before we reach Glyn Coes?”
“About ninety minutes.”
“But we are breaking the journey, right?”
“Of course.” Rollo indicated right and made the turn. “Services on the M4, Junction 33. We’ll do without the coffee.”
“Thirty minutes in this traffic.”
“Okay, that should be long enough to make a start on the briefing. Fire away, Lara.”
“Oh no,” she said, shaking her head. “From now on, I’m Annabelle Hallam. Annie. Rollo is Adrian Bennett, my older brother. I’ll give you our full bios later.”
“Okay, Mrs Hallam. And who am I?”
“You are Peter Sidings.”
“Sidings again? Got it,” he said, trying not to smile. He did push out an extended sigh, though. “How the mighty fall.”
“Sorry?” she asked. “An instant demotion. Major Bill Griffin one minute, Staff Sergeant Peter Sidings the next.”
“No more than you deserve, sir,” Rollo announced from his perch in the driving seat. Forever sniping. Rollo eased the Beemer into the outside lane and added more pressure to the throttle. The big saloon’s rapid acceleration forced Kaine deeper into his plush leather seat. Within seconds, the Fiat and its floppy-haired tailgater had faded into the distance, unable to match the 7 Series’ superior performance.
Staff Sergeant Peter Sidings.
Kaine ran through the bio in his head. Having used the Sidings legend many times before and since the disaster that changed his life forever, he didn’t have to work too hard. Staff Sergeant Peter Sidings. Retired2 PARA veteran of two Gulf Wars, registered bodyguard, advanced driver, and long-serving employee of Conqueror Security Services, one of the largest and most well-respected private defence consultancies in the UK. Physical characteristics: dark hair, blue eyes, badly broken nose.
Becoming Peter Sidings required a couple of cosmetic props. “I’ll need blue contacts and something for the schnozz.”
Lara reached into her capacious bag, pulled out a contact lens case, and handed it across.
“Thanks, love. I’ll wait until we stop. Last time I tried fitting contacts in a moving car I nearly poked my eye out.” He tried a cheery grin, but again, she dismissed his attempt at levity.
“No need for the putty, though,” Rollo announced. “Staff Sergeant Sidings recently went under the knife. Cosmetic surgery. The doctors rebuilt his nasal bone. Straightened his nose up a treat, apparently.”
“You updated his bio?” Rollo dipped his head in a nod but kept his eyes on the road. “Sure did. At least, Corky did. The doc asked him to work his magic last night. She thought you’d find sticking a tissue up your nose for days on end a little uncomfortable. Isn’t that right, Doc?”
She does still care.
He turned to face her. “Thanks, Lara. I appreciate it.” “It’s ‘Annie Hallam’, remember.” Another frown furrowed her forehead, this one less defined, less severe. Signs of a thaw? Kaine’s shoulders relaxed and the tension in his stomach eased.
“Okay, Annie. Why not spend the time telling me all about Glyn Coes and the Cadwalladers.” “Okay,” she said. “Pin your ears back. I don’t want to repeat myself.”
Uh-oh. The ice is still crackling.COLLAPSE