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The ShortRead: Tony Parsons

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ShortRead of 14 May

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The Murder Bag

Author: Tony Parsons

What's the story: Seven friends, each a former student of well-moneyed, exclusive private school Potter's Field, have another far less fortunate trait in common. They're all meeting violent, unimaginably brutal ends.

This is the first case for London's newest detective Max Wolfe - Parsons' answer to the grit-and-grim of Ian Rankin and Peter James. As the bodies pile up, the killer's reach looks to be drawing closer to all Max holds dear.

If you're looking to invest your evenings in a new crime series, you've found your man.

Release date: Out now

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Extract

I was waiting for a man who was planning to die.

I had parked the old BMW X5 just up the road from the entrance to the railway station and I drank a triple espresso as I watched the commuters rushing off to work. I drank quickly.

He would be here soon.

I placed three photographs on the dashboard. One of my wife and daughter. The other two of the man who was planning to die. A passport photo from the Home Office and what we called a snatch shot taken from some CCTV footage.

I slipped the photo of my family inside my wallet and put the wallet inside my leather jacket. Then I taped the two photos of the man who was planning to die to the dashboard.

And I watched the street.

I was parked with my back to the station so I could face the busy main road. It was washed in thin autumn sunshine that was like a fading memory of summer days. One hundred metres away there was a young woman who was dressed for the gym looking in the window of the newsagent ’s, a large German Shepherd sitting patiently by her side, its lead loose, its intelligent face carefully watching her, the dog totally at ease among the rush hour crowds.

‘Now that’s a beautiful dog,’ I said.

The woman smiled and scratched the back of the dog’s ears in response, and then there was a man’s voice in my ear, although he was not addressing me.

‘Reception’s good for Delta 1.’

Then there were more voices in my ear as they checked transmission for the other radio call signs and all over the surveillance chatter I could hear the studied calm that the police use at moments of extreme tension, like a pilot talking to his passengers when all his engines are on fire. Nothing at all to worry about, folks.

I scanned the street for the spotter vans and unmarked cars and plainclothes officers on foot. But they were good at their job. All I could see was the woman with the beautiful German Shepherd.

‘Delta 1?’ the surveillance officer said to me. ‘We see you and we hear you, Max. You’re running point. We’re waiting on your positive visual ID when Bravo 1 is in the grab zone. Stay in the car.’

Bravo 1 was the man who was planning to die.

‘Copy that,’ I said.

And then a voice I knew: ‘DC Wolfe, it’s the chief super.’ Detective Chief Superintendent Elizabeth Swire. My boss.

‘Ma’am,’ I said.

‘Good luck, Wolfe,’ she said. Then there was a little smile in her voice as she played to the gallery: ‘And you heard the man. Stay in the car. Let the big boys do the heavy lifting.’

I stared at the street. It would not be long now.

‘Ma’am,’ I said, as nice and calm as the German Shepherd. If I tilted my rear-view mirror I could look up at the grand Victorian façade of the station hotel. It was like a castle in a fairy story, the turrets and spires rising up to a blue sky full of billowy white clouds. The kind of place where you blink your eye and a hundred years go by. I could not see any of the big boys. But inside the railway station hotel there were enough of them to start a small war.

Somewhere beyond the net curtains and drapes, SCO19 were waiting, the firearms unit of the Metropolitan Police. Every one of them would be armed with a Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle and two Glock SLP 9mm pistols. But no matter how hard I stared I still couldn’t see them.

There would also be bomb disposal squads seconded from the RAF in there. Negotiators. Chemical and biological warfare specialists. And someone to order pizza. We also had maybe twenty people around the station but I could still only see the woman and the dog. The surveillance chatter continued.

‘All units report. Echo 1?’

‘No sign.’

‘Victor 1?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Tango 1?’

‘Contact,’ said a woman’s voice.

For the first time the piece of plastic stuffed in my ear was totally silent.

‘I have visual with Bravo 1,’ said the same voice. ‘Contact.’ And then a terrible pause. ‘Possible,’ she said. ‘Repeat – possible contact.’

‘Possible,’ the surveillance officer said. ‘Checking. Stand by.’ His voice was winding tighter now.

And then the woman’s voice again, and all the doubt creeping in: ‘Possible. Red backpack. Just passing the British Library. Proceeding on foot in an easterly direction towards the station. Approaching the grab zone.’

‘Delta 1?’

‘Copy that,’ I said.

‘And I’m off,’ Tango 1 said, meaning she had lost visual contact with the target.

I glanced quickly at the two photographs taped to my dash- board. I didn’t really need to because I knew exactly what he looked like. But I looked one last time anyway. Then back at the crowds.

‘I don’t see him,’ I said.

Then a more urgent voice in my ear. Another woman. The officer with the dog. It watched her intently as her mouth moved.

‘This is Whisky 1, Whisky 1. I have possible visual contact. Bravo 1 coming now. Two hundred metres. Far side of the road. Easterly direction. Red backpack. Possible contact.’

A babble of voices and a sharp call for silence.

‘Possible. Checking. Checking. Stand by, all units. Stand by, Delta 1.’

Then there was just the silence, crackling with static. Waiting for me now.

At first I stared straight through him. Because he was different.

I looked quickly at the two photographs on the dashboard and he was nothing like them. The black hair was light brown. The wispy beard had gone. But it was far more than that. His face had changed. It was filled out, puffed up, almost the face of someone else.

But one thing was the same.

‘Delta 1?’

‘Contact,’ I said.

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For more excellent reads, check out our previous choices below - just click on the link:

The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

Who is Tom Ditto by Danny Wallace

The Girl who saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

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