Mike Harley arrived home with another successful night under his belt. He closed the door to his apartment and caught sight of his face in the hallway mirror. He briefly studied his short, swept-back brown hair, thin cheeks and dropped jaw line, punctuated by clear green eyes; he had a striking look, set off by his immaculate dress style of shirt and tie. He allowed himself a smug smile at the events of the evening as he tugged off his tie and unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a fit lean body.
Mike was ready to call it a night and was en route to the bedroom when he caught sight of the dim red flashing light on the telephone answering machine at the end of the hallway. He debated briefly whether to check the message or leave it until the morning, but curiosity lured him to it. He pressed the play button.
‘Mike, it’s Jonno,’ the voice said against a noisy background of music and chat. ‘If you are home in time and value your life, get the hell out of there. You’ve messed up real bad this time. Two guys are coming after you and believe me, it’s no joke.’
Mike frowned and hit the save facility on the answering machine. The doorbell rang. Now uneasy, visions of two heavies waiting to pounce on him from behind his front door made him wary. He edged slowly to the door and looked through the peephole to see who was there, a relieved sigh escaping his lips as he recognised his next-door neighbour. He opened the door to the elderly Mr Roberts.
‘I’m glad to catch you home, young Harley. This came for you,’ said Roberts in a frail voice. He handed over a parcel.
‘You could have given it to me tomorrow,’ Mike said. ‘It’s late.’
‘Oh, I wanted to warn you, too. Two men called round earlier. Didn’t like the look of them, too shifty for my liking. You be careful, you hear me?’
Mike thanked the old man for his trouble and the warning. Mr Roberts was a proud man who always looked out for those around him and didn’t ask for charity from anyone, despite his age. He tipped his finger to Mike and left. Mike closed the door.
The news that the two men had already tried to call on him confirmed for Mike that he really did have a problem. He started to button up his shirt and headed off to the bedroom to pack a bag. This called for a temporary leave of absence.
He racked his brain over what the problem could be; maybe Jonno would be able to inform him when he had safely got himself out of harm’s way. Picking up a few shaving items from the top of the chest of drawers by the window, Mike caught sight of a car’s headlamps nosing down his street. He saw the car pull up outside and sneaked another look as two burly guys emerged from the vehicle next to the streetlight. One of them looked up and caught Mike at the window. The man raised his arm and pointed, his face contorted with menace.
‘Shit,’ whispered Mike. They were now hurrying toward his building. Guessing that they were the men he had been warned about, he decided it was time to leave. In panic, he dropped the shaving items into the holdall and zipped it up quickly. He snatched up his fleece jacket from the coat stand near the front door, grabbed his keys and was out of the door, closing it quickly behind him as he made a beeline for the lift. On his approach, he could hear the sound of the lift in motion and looked up at the digital board above the doors. It showed the numbers ascending.
Mike realised he’d have to take the stairway to avoid them. He dashed to the door leading to the stairway and opened it. Fear took hold of him as he heard a male voice coming from below. As he peered down the stairway he heard footsteps drawing nearer. Mike wasn’t sure now from which direction they would apprehend him, unless the lift’s motion was a decoy. Either way, he didn’t want to take a chance and retreated from the doorway.
He went to the nearest corner and slid behind it, just as the lift pinged its arrival on his level. He turned his head a little around the corner of his hiding place, to see the two men emerge from the lift. They turned away from him, their brisk footsteps going towards his apartment until they reached his front door. Mike forced himself away quickly to avoid being seen, should they look in his direction. He heard several knocks upon his door. His breathing became a little shallower, with the fear of being caught once the men realised he had flitted. He heard a door open a little distance away.
‘Do you know what time of night this is?’ said the all-familiar voice of Mr Roberts in an aggrieved manner. Mike looked again around the corner and saw the two go towards Mr Roberts.
‘Go back to bed, old man’ said one of the men firmly. He had straggly shoulder-length hair and shabby clothes, Mike observed. ‘You’ve no concern in this matter so leave us be,’ he continued, being polite with his request.
‘Don’t you ‘old man’ me. Where’s your respect? I suggest you both clear off and leave Mr Harley in peace or I’ll call the police.’ His bravery in confronting the two men was in stark contrast to how Mike Harley was feeling right then.
‘You want respect? Sure, no problem,’ said the straggly man’s partner, a bald-headed, chubby-faced guy, who swiftly moved one of his gloved hands to the back of his black leather jacket and pulled it up a bit. Mike gazed in horror as he saw the glint of a blade, resting in a pouch on the belt clip. He wanted to call out and alert Mr Roberts to the danger but he was frozen in fear.
The man pulled the knife from the pouch and, with a thrust, slammed it home into the old man’s chest, his screams muffled by the other hand of the assailant, which was covering his mouth. The old man’s eyes widened in shock, there was no resistance given, and the blood began to seep rapidly through his white shirt and drip onto the floor. Mike felt the shakes engulf him as he witnessed the quick jerk of the man’s head by the killer’s powerful arms and the life was gone. The knife was withdrawn from his chest and the body tossed to the floor, where it quietly thudded on the carpeted corridor.
‘He had to go. He would only have ID us and besides—dead people get respect at funerals. Just how the old man wanted it,’ remarked the bald man calmly to his accomplice. He bent down over the dead body and wiped the blade clean using the old man’s trousers as a cloth.
‘The stupid fool should have stayed indoors,’ the straggly man said. ‘Let’s get on with the job.’ They turned towards Mike’s door, forcing Mike to hide his face again. From his hidden corner he heard another small thud and the squeak of a door’s hinge. He looked round the corner, his apartment door was open. The men had forced an entry. This time was crucial for his escape.
Mike put on his fleece, slung the holdall over his shoulder and nervously pulled away from the corner, heading straight for the stairway. As he dashed down the flight of stairs he heard the lift’s mechanism in action. The men were probably now on their way down. Mike reached the ground floor and darted across the building’s foyer. The lift’s doors opened.
‘Hey, there’s our man!’ shouted one of the heavies. Mike upped his pace out of the building and sprinted down the street. He didn’t want to look back to gauge the distance between them. He heard a car start up, but no sign of their footsteps behind him and guessed that he had a good lead over them, but not for long—up against the might of a car, Mike knew he needed an alternative.
The car roared with venom and soon the beam of its headlights was rapidly closing in on him. Mike switched to the pavement from the street and remembered a nearby alleyway. He managed to beat the car to its entrance and it was now a game of hide and seek on foot.
The garden walls of the houses in the alleyway offered his only refuge from danger. He leapt upwards at a wall, gripped the top of it and hauled himself over in the nick of time, as headlight beams shone down the alley. Mike heard the car grind to a halt and a door open. The footsteps of one man approached. Mike felt his heartbeat pumping harder and shortage of breath from running left him wheezing a little. He clapped a hand over his mouth to ensure that his position wasn’t given away. In the distance, sirens were heard.
‘Jemison, let’s get out of here,’ a faint voice called from the end of the alley, breaking the fleeting standoff between predator and prey. ‘The cops are coming.’
‘Wherever you are, you won’t get far. That’s a promise.’ Jemison’s threat reached out to Mike as his footsteps receded. Mike heard a car door close and the squeal of tyres, and the headlights retreated from the alley. Salvation. Whatever the problem was, the stakes had just been raised, with one man dead and two thugs on his trail.
Reviews on the book
‘I really liked this novel from beginning to end. The author presented believable characters in strange situations, with strong writing that moved the story along at a very fast pace. This is a very entertaining novel that was a delightful read by a very talented author.’
THE MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW, USA.
‘A clever fast paced thriller with an excellent open ending. A sequel maybe?’
DEREK FOX - CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED AUTHOR OF ‘RECLUSE’ AND ‘DEMON’.
‘The opening scene gripped my attention and the protagonist’s reaction to the danger in which he finds himself strikes me as true to life.’
REGINA POUNDS – AUTHOR OF SEVERAL REGENCY ROMANCES, USA.
‘Loads of exciting twists and turns. Brilliant.’
BOB WHITE, HAYLING ISLAND, UK.
Purchased for libraries by Portsmouth City Council & Hampshire County Council
Reviewed in several magazines in the UK and USA
The book went Top Ten in Jun'06, Jan, Mar & Apr'07 on Independant Authors website bookchart
Good sales achieved at book signing events
Book of the Month (Jan 2007) at Independant Authors website
Exceeds average book sales for authors nationally
TOP 100 - Amazon Kindle 'Crime Thriller' charts (UK) DEC 2011
Library Borrowings attains 'Public Lending Right' royalties - 2014