Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Ryan Kaine is on the run...
A seemingly routine operation ends in tragedy when eighty-three civilians are killed in an aircraft explosion. Kaine, a highly decorated former Royal Marine, becomes the target of a nationwide manhunt; the police want him on terrorism charges, and a sinister organisation wants him dead.
In a desperate attempt to prove his innocence, Kaine is forced to rely on two women he barely knows — a country veterinarian who treats his wounds and an IT expert with a dark secret of her own.
Kaine must battle his overwhelming guilt, life-threatening injuries and strong moral code as he hunts for the people who turned him into a mass-murderer.
Using his skill in combat, gut instincts, and new-found allies, can Kaine uncover the truth and find redemption before the net finally closes?
If you like Lee Child, Mark Dawson and Robert Ludlum, you’re going to find the Ryan Kaine series compulsively addictive.
Wednesday 9th September – The North Sea
Herring Gull’s ancient sonar showed the depth beneath the keel as eighteen metres. Deep enough for safety.
Ryan Kaine, designated ‘Alpha Two’ for the operation, cut the engine and allowed the fifteen metre fishing boat to drift. At only six miles out, with a slow current, he had plenty of time to complete the mission before the ebb tide took him into the shipping lanes.
Kaine frowned at Herring Gull’s rubbish-strewn wheelhouse. Some people didn’t deserve to own a boat. Next time, he’d hire one from a more responsible owner, but for this operation, she would suffice.
The time on his diver’s watch read 20:13. Twenty-six minutes until nautical twilight and twenty-one from the target’s ETA.
He sucked in a deep, settling breath, released it slowly, and repeated the process.
Time to earn his corn.
He pulled on his diver’s hood, grabbed the ruggedised plastic case, and stepped out onto the rolling deck. A stiffening breeze whipped a mist of salt water into his eyes. He blinked it away.
Kaine dropped to one knee, released the clasps on the case, and flipped open the lid. There she lay—safe in her black, dimpled-foam cocoon—a wide-bodied tube of awesome power and functional beauty.
He removed the matte green cylinder and balanced it on his thigh.
The Portable Air-Attack System Mark IV, the PAAS-4, weighed far less than he expected—a bantamweight killing machine. Its payload, a modified Buzzer III SAM nestled safe inside its home. He popped open the instrument cover, keyed in the code, and waited for the system to scroll through the initialisation protocol. Thirty seconds later she was ready—armed and crushingly dangerous.
According to the technical specs, the ‘ultra-lightweight’ SAM ‘set the technological bar higher than anything else currently on the market’.
Kaine snorted. Time would tell.
He stood, swung the tube onto his shoulder, and tested its balance while fully loaded. Not bad. Wouldn’t want to carry it far over heavy terrain, but the ergonomic setup worked well enough. As promised, the pistol grip handle, targeting screen, and operating software were a distinct improvement on the competition.
The swell deepened, and Herring Gull’s increasing roll forced him to brace his left thigh against the gunwale. By hinging at the waist, he matched his sway with that of the pitching deck.
Everything was ready for the green light. Even the weather, cool and mainly clear, with a building onshore breeze, cooperated.
He checked the field of operation.
The only other vessel in sight, a tanker, chugged three miles off his starboard bow, heading northeast, towards Norway. Her navigation lights showed clear and bright, and her bridge threw a fractured blanket of brilliant white into the gathering darkness. As for Herring Gull, she ran dark and rode low in the water, hidden inside deep troughs half the time. If the tanker crew spotted his little tub on their radar, they’d think nothing of it.
The pale grey sky, criss-crossed with white jet trails but otherwise empty, gazed down on him, its face benign. Cloud free, the visibility couldn’t be better.
The deck continued to roll and buck beneath his feet, but it didn’t matter. If the weapon lived up to the hype, it wouldn’t miss.
Which was the whole point.
According to the blurb, once the Buzzer’s internal infrared homing system gained a lock, nothing could intercept it. Hence Kaine’s current location, six miles offshore, twenty-five from Hull, and eighteen from Grimsby—give or take. An isolated spot.
The deadly weapon on his shoulder weighed heavy and begged for release. He lowered it to the rail.
All set, Kaine checked his watch once again. He waited.
The sea roiled beneath the hull, gulls screamed and bickered along the rail, and the keen salt air filled his lungs. Kaine smiled. He couldn’t think of a better place, or more lucrative way, to spend an early autumn evening.
Static crackled in his earpiece, the words unrecognisable.
Kaine released the PAAS-4’s handgrip and hit the press-to-talk button strapped to his left index finger with his thumb. “Repeat message, over.”
“Alpha Two, this is Alpha One. Are you receiving me? Over.”
“Receiving you strength five. Over.”
“Standby to accept the transponder code in thirty seconds. Over.”
“Standing by. Alpha Two, out.”
Kaine took a knee once more, balanced the PAAS-4 on his thigh, and pressed a button above the trigger mechanism—the failsafe lock. A rectangular flap sprang open. In his head, he counted down the seconds.
“Alpha Two, transponder code is as follows: bravo-echo-one-five-five-five-bravo-sierra-tango. Repeat to confirm, over.”
Kaine repeated the alpha-numeric sequence aloud as he dialled it into the tracking system. Alpha One responded to each entry with, “Check.”
“Sequence confirmed? Over.”
“Affirmative, Alpha Two. Sequence confirmed. Over.”
Kaine pressed ‘lock’. Three green lights confirmed the code. A slow click emanating from the device showed the system as active and searching for the transponder signal.
“Launch when you have a confirmed visual. I repeat. Launch when you have a confirmed visual. Over.”
“Understood. Alpha Two, out.”
He threw the ‘off’ switch for communications blackout. After that point, nothing but a system failure could stop the inevitable. All Kaine needed was a belt-and-braces visual confirmation of the target and the audible alarm on the weapon to confirm the lock. Then he’d squeeze the trigger, stand back to watch the fireworks, and head for home. With luck and a fair wind, he’d be back in time for breakfast.
The Principal would make the second half of the payment within thirty minutes of Kaine launching the Buzzer. It would take that long for telemetry to confirm the launch and the target’s destruction.
So far, the Principal had met every milestone in each of their contracts. If the Principal ever failed to make a payment on time and in full, he knew that not only would Kaine and Alpha One never work for the man again, they’d spread the news around their world. Then where would the Principal go?
In Ryan Kaine’s world, trust was everything. Trust and a ruddy great big stick.
Still on one knee, Kaine raised the PAAS-4 into his shoulder, and rested the barrel on the gunwale once more. Despite the rapidly fading light, the night vision scope made the image bright as midday in June. He wrapped his hand around the contours of the pistol grip, and placed his trigger finger along the guard.
Herring Gull weaved and bobbed as the sea grew more turbulent. The fresh-to-strong breeze dried the sweat on his face—the only exposed skin apart from his hands.
The gulls, annoying little buggers, still argued over sea-borne morsels.
Nine minutes. Any longer and he’d have to abort. The window of opportunity was precise, immutable.
His world condensed into a grey sea, chill wind, a pitching deck, and the northern horizon.
The boat swung three points to port, putting him in the lee of the wheelhouse. The heat built inside his wetsuit. Sweat formed a slick barrier between skin and insulated neoprene. Although strictly unnecessary for this specific mission, the wetsuit formed part of his personal rules of engagement. During a live assignment at sea, he wore the neoprene, no compromises. The rules had saved his life in the past and would no doubt do so in the future.
He pressed his ear against the launcher’s breach-stock. The internal electronics fired out radio pulses in search of their prey.
He glanced to the northwest. The dark, undulating pencil line of the coast appeared thinner than before. Seven more minutes before the abort.
Low to the northern horizon, a small movement caught his eye. It climbed slowly into the sky, pushing east, towards Continental Europe. Kaine rotated a knurled button on the weapon’s optical display. The image sharpened.
Green starboard wingtip light flashing once per second, white light a fraction forward of that. The target! Visual confirmation made.
The clicking from the Buzzer’s internal tracking system increased in speed and volume. It pinged twice.
Kaine smiled again. Show time.
He slid his trigger finger into the guard, and squeezed.
An infinitesimal delay brought fractional doubt before the PAAS-4 roared and thumped hard into his shoulder. The Buzzer leaped from the wide muzzle, tail aflame. The tube’s flash-guard screen protected Kaine’s eyes and face, but the heat singed the hairs on the back of his hands. The smell of burnt hair rankled.
As the missile cleared the barrel, its tail fins flipped open and the nose lifted. A moment later, the afterburners ignited. The Buzzer shot forward, doubling in speed as it arced through the air and disappeared into the darkening sky. A perfect launch. It barely left a vapour trail.
Seventeen seconds later—he counted them—an orange flower bloomed in the northern sky.
Kaine clenched his fist. Success. Time to leave.
He lowered the lighter PAAS-4 and stood.
Herring Gull lurched. Her stern fell away and then righted itself as the sea crashed against the hull. The boat dipped and corkscrewed, throwing Kaine forward. The PAAS-4’s barrel hit the guardrail and the cover protecting the targeting display flipped open. The screen glowed when it should have been inactive.
Amber numbers flashed.
11… 10 … 9 …
Kaine heaved the weapon over the rail and it dropped into the thrashing waters.
6 … 5 … 4 …
He dived to the side, scrambling for cover. Time stretched and contracted.
2 … 1 …
Two near-simultaneous explosions vied for his attention—both muffled, both from beneath the boat. The deck lurched up and slammed into his face and belly, and threw him against the wheelhouse wall. A pressure wave popped his ears and punched the air from his lungs.
Herring Gull screamed and listed to port, the angle growing ever steeper.
Kaine struggled to maintain his position on a sloping deck made slippery by green slime. He slid and crashed into the scuppers. The jarring crunch of skull and shoulder hitting metalwork stunned him, but the cries of the dying boat cut through his daze.
No thought, no plan. Pure animal instinct.
He grasped the rail, heaved himself over the gunwale, and rolled into the sea. A three feet fall into the water, no more.
Ice cold water froze his face and hands. Shock killed all reason.
He kicked hard and pulled through the water.
Heart thumping, pulse pounding in his ears, he broke through to the surface.
Kaine spat filth from his mouth—sea water mixed with oil, flakes of rust, and bilge scum—gulped a mouthful of air, sucked in sea spray, coughed.
Move man. Move!
Ryan Kaine did what years of training had drilled into him—he swam. Heading away. Away from the boat. Clear of the undertow and any wreckage wanting to drag him beneath the water.
After thirty full-bore racing strokes—fifty metres—he stopped, spun through one-eighty degrees, and trod water while the stricken vessel slipped below the surface. Not with a roar or a whimper, but a barely audible groan.
Bubbles and foam exploded in her wake.
As Herring Gull’s radio mast disappeared below the waves, a lump formed in Kaine’s salt-raw throat. Any sailor who could watch the death of a boat without feeling its pain wasn’t human.
Flotsam rippled on the surface and dispersed in the turbulent foam. An old tyre, one of the fenders, had broken free from its line and bobbed in the oily scum.
What the hell happened?
How could a near-empty tube have packed enough explosives to sink a fishing boat?
Some bastard wanted him dead. Why?
He tamped down the anger. Answers could wait. First things first. Personal safety. Take care of the now, deal with the rest later—if he survived the now.
He coughed. Pain shot through his left side. What?
Rib damage from crashing into the scuppers.
Problem piled on top of problem.
Alone in an empty sea with a howling, mocking wind. Even the gulls had deserted him. He fought a harrowing sense of isolation.
A dangerous situation, but he’d been in worse. At least this time he wasn’t taking fire from insurgents armed with AK47s.
Despite the crack to the rib and the lack of feeling in his fingers, his arms and legs worked well enough. Full range of movement. The blow to his head was nothing but a minor discomfort. As far as he could tell with stiffened fingers, no broken skin, no bleeding. Probably had his hood to thank for that. The wetsuit now played its part in his survival. Good thermal insulation. Once again his personal code had saved him, so far.
But his hands. So damned cold.
He reached for the dive bag attached to his belt, but found the rough end of a broken strap. The bag had gone and with it his gloves, facemask, and fins.
Jesus. No fins!
Could the day get any worse?
How long since he’d cut the engine? Twenty-five minutes, maybe thirty. In that time, how far would Herring Gull have drifted on an ebb tide but with a counteracting onshore breeze? One mile? Two?
Without flippers or facemask, the eight or nine mile swim would be tough, especially in the heavy swell. He’d also be fighting the receding tide for at least three hours. After that, the moon would give him a push if he still needed it.
The first tremor of a shiver tightened his gut, a stark reminder of the danger. He had to move.
Fingers without feeling. Lips tingling. Thoughts muddled. Reactions slowing. The cold had already begun its deadly work. Despite the insulated wetsuit, in thirty or forty minutes, hypothermia would take him if he didn’t start swimming. Generate warmth through exercise. The only option.
Swim, man. Go!
Which way? Which way to shore?
West. Follow the fading light of the setting sun.
No, southwest to keep away from the Humber Estuary’s shipping lanes. The diver’s watch was finally going to justify its price tag. He breathed warmth onto his fingers and ran them along the watch’s bevelled edge. Numb fingertips eventually found the button and activated the light. Three perishing, trembling minutes later, he’d locked in the direction—225 degrees from true north.
He took a breath, flipped up his legs, and struck out for shore.
Pain flared along his ribs with each stroke, but the tight wetsuit helped hold him together. Head down, reach, catch, rotate the shoulders, pull, kick. Check the compass every thirty-fifth breath to correct for tidal drift and swim inefficiency.
Muscle contraction generated heat. Exercise pumped heated blood through his body, warming his extremities, easing the rib pain. But something else stoked his furnace—anger. Pure bloody anger. The thirst for revenge.
Someone had turned against him, and that someone would pay. Dark vengeance fuelled the rage boiling deep within Ryan Kaine. The fire kept him warm, kept him alive.
He ploughed through the water, hour after long hour.
Dusk turned to coal dark night, broken only by the luminous dials on his watch and the light of a billion stars. On he swam. On and on.
Midnight passed and brought with it a barely perceptible change in the sea’s dynamics. The tide now drove him forward, towards the safety of shore.
Long, slow, and economical, the endurance stroke’s easy rhythm soothed. Its metronomic simplicity gave his brain time to recover and work properly for the first time since Herring Gull’s shattered death.
Through the long night, Kaine replayed the operation in his head from contract placement to explosive finish.
The pale northern sky at sunset …. the lighted arc heading for the Continent … too slow for a private or military jet and too small for an intercontinental airliner. Nor was it the unmanned drone he’d been contracted to destroy—the explosion had been too big.
What in God’s name had he shot from the sky?