When a short break away from home becomes a terrifying battle for survival, and you realise you have no-one you can trust...
Where do you turn?
All Charis Boulton and her ten-year old son wanted was a weekend away from the rush and noise of the city. Where better than the peace, and the stark beauty, of the Scottish Highlands?
But as old hatreds raise their heads, and old scores beg to be settled, Charis and her son are caught up in a deadly mesh of intrigue and murder. They learn that no-one can be trusted, but is it a lesson learned too late?
Read on, for the opening chapter of Crossfire, the first book in the brand new Clifford-Mackenzie crime series by R.D. Nixon.
Abergarry, Scotland, 2nd August 1993
The car came out of nowhere. One minute Dougie was striding along the empty road, enjoying a bit of Pink Floyd through his earphones, the next he was staring over his shoulder in disbelief at the BMW hurtling towards him. Heart hammering, he jumped for the drainage ditch, and felt a moment’s elated triumph until his boots slithered on the wet grass. He went down onto his hands, yelling out in pain as his right wrist bent sharply and his tailbone connected with the stony ground.
The car purred its expensive way onward over the summit, and, as far as a stunned Dougie could see, the brake lights hadn’t flashed once. His wrist throbbed, and he cupped it in his left hand as he climbed unsteadily to his feet, looking both ways on the once more deserted road, then let out an explosive, but trembling breath. Tourists! Just because you could see for miles didn’t mean you could hammer along these roads at seventy-plus… There might not be a lot of traffic around at this time of the day, but there were other things to consider. Like people! Christ, if Floyd hadn’t gone quiet at the crucial moment, he wouldn’t have heard the car at all.
Feeling queasy at that thought, Dougie brushed at the bits of grass that clung to his wet hands and tried to get his heart under control again. Fifty-one was no age, right enough, but it was also no age to be leaping about like a teenager; he’d be feeling that near miss for a good while yet. He shakily removed one of his earphones and lowered the volume on his Discman, then continued his walk into town, all the while keeping a wary eye on the road ahead and behind.
Abergarry was one of those towns where shops actually stayed shut on the bank holidays, and there was no-one around as Dougie turned into Inverlochy Court and took out the key to his shop. He saw that his hands were still trembling – that was anger, of course… He gave a soft snort and shook his head. Anger? Okay. Tell that to his fiercely skipping heart, which was still going nineteen to the dozen in there.
He passed through the shop without turning on the lights; there’d be no-one around to buy anything today, and there was no sense in opening up just because he had nowhere better to be. At least that meant he had all the time in the world to work on his next collection, and be ready for the Christmas gift-buying season.
He went through the door at the back of the counter into his workroom, and as the overhead fluorescent bulb hummed, then flickered into life, he began to feel some semblance of normality reasserting itself. A cup of tea and a custard cream, and he’d be all set. His wrist twanged uncomfortably as he filled the kettle, and he sourly wondered if he’d be able to do much work today after all, but there was too much to be done to consider taking the day off.
An array of newly carved figurines lined one edge of the work table, marble chips littered the surface, and a metal box stood open, ready for his practised fingers to select the correct tool... Usually without looking. But today he was working with paints, and although he no longer had a wife to tell him off, he could still hear her voice: Douglas Cameron, do you think I’ve nothin’ better to do than sponge paint out of your shirt? It was a bitter-sweet memory, but it brought a smile to his face as he tied his apron and turned to find a tea bag.
The sound of the shop door opening made him start, then sigh. Should have locked it. An apology formed behind his lips, but he managed no more than three steps towards the workroom door before it opened. When he saw who stood there he relaxed, though his irritation remained; distractions, however welcome the rest of the time, were not part of today’s plan.
‘I thought you were away down south this weekend?’
His visitor didn’t reply. He had a strange look about him; his colour was high and his breathing rapid, and Dougie’s apprehension returned. ‘What do you want?’
‘You were lucky back there.’ The visitor moved into the room until he was standing directly in front of Dougie, whose forehead tightened as he realised what the man was referring to.
‘You were driving that flash car? What—’
‘Lucky for a wee while, anyway. I didn’t fancy running the car right off the road though, just to make sure of you.’
‘Oh, Jesus…’ It came out flat and far-away sounding, as realisation hit. From the corner of his eye Dougie glimpsed the tool box again, and with a speed that would have surprised him if he’d seen someone else do it, his hand flashed out and his fingers closed on one of the larger chisels. He held it like a dagger in front him, but his would-be assassin didn’t seem fazed; instead of backing away, he rounded the work bench, brushing by the wavering, four-toothed tip, and reached for a box that sat on top of the cupboard.
Dougie’s skin broke out in a clammy sweat, prickling along his hairline, but he still couldn’t move. ‘Don’t,’ he whispered, less an order than a plea, but the intruder ignored him and lifted the handgun from the box.
‘You won’t be needing this any more then,’ he said. ‘Pity to have wasted it.’
‘Look, I won’t—’
‘Put the chisel down.’
Dougie tightened his grip instead. ‘That thing’s not loaded,’ he said in a thin voice, nodding at the gun. ‘The ammunition’s in another box.’
‘What, you go to the trouble of obtaining a gun for your own protection, but don’t have it ready to use? I’m not stupid.’
‘I never really thought I’d need it,’ Dougie confessed. ‘But aye, it’s the truth.’
It wasn’t, but the momentary hesitation on the part of the intruder was enough; in the split second afforded him by a glance at the top of the cupboard, Dougie lunged with the chisel.
He immediately knew he’d missed his chance. He’d have had to use every ounce of strength he possessed to drive this tool through a heavy cotton jacket, and then into flesh, and he had neither the conviction nor the faintest inkling of what it would feel like. His sprained wrist flared with a white-hot pain and lost all its strength, and a moment later he felt the iron grip of gloved fingers on his arm before the chisel was ripped from his grasp. His blood froze and he tried to take a step back, but there was nowhere to go. Even as his back came up against the work bench he knew it was over.
The blow took him low in the chest, then he felt a wrenching sensation and the spill of warmth down his apron. There was no pain yet, just a deep sense of shock, and he slumped against the bench, praying blackness would take him away before the pain hit.
He dragged his gaze back to his attacker’s face, and to his bewilderment it was the face of a suddenly uncertain man, one who nevertheless knows he has gone too far to turn back, and must finish. Even as the thought passed through Dougie’s mind, the crimson-slicked chisel moved again, and somehow, hopeless as it was, he brought his arm up and stopped the metal teeth from driving through his throat. The tearing pain in his forearm brought his focus back, and although he could still feel blood pulsing from what must be a grievous wound in his chest, he was wrapped in a kind of cold calm. He wasn’t supposed to die. Not him. He had all the time in the world… Hadn’t he just thought that?
He shoved with every bit of strength he had left, and for a second there was clear space in front of him; hope leapt, fierce and bright, before the gap closed again. His attacker’s eyes glittered with a kind of barely suppressed desperation, and he was panting as the chisel slashed through the air. Once more Dougie’s sluggish movements were just enough to save him, and his fingers twisted into the man’s sleeve, dragging the arm downwards. The gloves were awash with blood, slick with it, and the chisel slithered out of the man’s grasp.
The clang it made as it hit the stone floor was like a triumphant bell – to Dougie’s increasingly confused mind it was a signal to seize this second chance. He bent down to scoop the tool up, but when he tried to rise again his chest was suddenly full of molten lava, and he found he had to fight for every shortening breath. The chisel dropped once more, and this time his assailant’s boot put it far out of reach.
Dougie gave up the struggle to stand straight again, and sank to his knees, dragging in a thin, whistling breath. Terror returned in a rush, quashing his cold refusal to succumb. Mocking it. He looked up to see a strange, revolted fascination on his attacker’s face, as if he were studying a creature pinned live to a dissection board. Dougie’s mute appeal for mercy was met with a closing down of that expression. The floor beneath him was slippery with blood, and the smell rose rank and metallic, tightening his throat. All the strength was running out of his limbs… And all the time in the world was running out with it.
Dougie’s head drooped once more, and he stared at the thick smear of his own blood between his splayed knees. Helpless tears gathered, blurring the image, and began to fall. Tiredness crept over him, turning his limbs to lead and his thoughts to shadows, and more than anything now, he wished it were over. His killer squatted opposite him, and together they waited.