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Read a FREE chapter from Red Mist by Ant Middleton

'Read an Exclusive Extract' on the left, with a picture of the front cover of Ant Middleton's book RED MIST

 

 

We’re delighted to exclusively share with you first extract of Red Mist by ex-SAS legend Ant Middleton. Sit down, belt up and get ready for the high-octane ride…

 

APPELBURG, SWITZERLAND

 

An unseasonal chill hung in the air. The night sky was almost completely clear, other than a sharp wedge of black cloud that cut through the centre of the full moon like a spear.

Nicolas Devereaux lowered his gaze from the stars. The summit of the mountain cast a shadow over most of the grounds, leaving only the patch of grass closest to the sprawling house doused in milky moonlight. Nicolas gripped the SIG P210 and, for the hundredth time, wondered what the hell he had got himself into.

They couldn’t have been serious, could they? This was just another test. Jonas, the lanky ex-soldier who was lurking somewhere out here, had to be in on the joke. Like the way stage psychics put a plant in the audience to give credibility to their powers of clairvoyance. Nicolas had taken Océane to see one of those guys in Pigalle last year. The psychic put on a good show, but Nicolas hadn’t been fooled. No, this had to be a joke. They were hazing him, seeing how far he would go.

So why did it feel so much like he was being hunted for real? He left the cover of a thick stand of azaleas, aiming to cut across an open stretch of grass to a set of stone steps that led up to one of the other levels. Platforms and staircases and statues and fountains. The place reminded Nicolas of a video game more than a garden. He got the impression that it had

been designed that way.

He wondered if that had been at the instruction of the man who was his host tonight. The tall, salt-and-pepper-haired Swiss who pointedly did not introduce himself when they met; whose handshake was bone-crushingly firm. The man whose staff referred to him only as le patron. Boss.

Two or three paces from the staircase, Nicolas sensed movement in the corner of his eye. He moved instinctively, ducking and thrusting his body forwards as he heard the snap of a gun- shot in the still air. The stone sculpture that had been behind his head a moment ago cracked, dust spraying out from the clean wedge that had just been blown out of it by the bullet.

Not a joke. Not a game. This was for real.

He heard Jonas’s deep voice throw out a curse. There was real anger behind it. Maybe Nicolas didn’t want to hurt anybody, but it didn’t sound as though his opponent shared that impulse.

Nicolas crouched behind the stone banister lining the staircase and peered between the supports. Jonas was still in the position from where he had fired. Nicolas could see his shadow disturbing the line of the bushes.

Suddenly, there was a flash of light from the opposite end of the garden. Nicolas turned to train his gun on the source of the light; a flashing array of spotlights. Music blared out. Brahms, he thought. Another distraction.

The lights winked out and the music faded. Nicolas turned and saw from the shadows that Jonas had not yet moved. Most likely, he had also been surprised by the light show.

Jonas would have to break cover sooner or later. To approach Nicolas’s position, he would have to come straight across the open stretch of grass, or circle around the bushes on the perimeter. Nicolas thought the first approach was unlikely. But if he went around the bushes, Nicolas would be able to track his movement. There were two places where the foliage thinned out, almost like windows in a green wall. All he would have to do would be to wait and time his shot just right.

He risked taking his eyes from Jonas’s position for a moment to size up the nearest gap. Barely thirty metres. No wind. He could make the shot with his eyes closed.

Wait, was he crazy? He had never met this man before the party earlier in the evening. He knew nothing of him, beyond a vague, instinctive dislike. Was he really going to shoot him?

But Jonas had shot at him. He had shot to kill, too. A slightly more skilled marksman would have succeeded.

Nicolas looked around. There had to be a way out of here. The garden was large; difficult to get a sense of its exact dimensions in the dark, with all of the foliage and the stone- work. But from everything he had seen so far, there was no obvious way out. The mountain rose above them on one side. The different levels and extensions of the house towered and sprawled out on the opposite side. On the remaining sides were stone walls at least fifteen feet high.

They were in a box. And if what the man who owned this land had said was true, only one of them was leaving the box.

Nicolas was brought back to the task in hand when he heard the whisper of soft rubber soles on grass.

As expected, Jonas was taking the route around the perim- eter. He probably didn’t realise there were gaps in the bushes where he could be seen. Nicolas waited for him to pass the first window, gauging his speed. The older man was moving quickly, confidently. Nicolas trained his gun on the second window and waited. He focused on the spot where Jonas would appear in seconds. Pinpointing the area he wanted the bullet to hit to the centimetre. He breathed in and waited.

Jonas’s silhouette appeared, passing the second window. Nicolas squeezed the trigger.

The gun kicked, the silhouette jerked and went down. Nicolas let the breath out.

He stood up, keeping the gun aimed at the window.

Arc lights switched on, much brighter than before, bathing the garden in a sudden nuclear glare.

Nicolas crouched down behind the stone banister again, shading his eyes with his free hand against the dazzling white light from the house.

He saw the silhouettes of three men walking out from the house across the grass, their shadows elongated. They looked like extra-terrestrials emerging from a spaceship.

He heard the boss’s voice, but didn’t know which of the three had spoken. ‘You can come out now, Nicolas.’

Hesitantly, Nicolas stood up, keeping the gun raised. The three men reached the spot where Jonas had fallen.

Nicolas walked out onto the grass, half-expecting to be shot down. He still couldn’t see the faces of the three men against the light, but their body language was relaxed, matter of fact. The game was over.

The three of them stood around Jonas, lying prone on the ground. He recognised le patron’s figure now. He was the

man in the middle, the edges of his suit sharp against the light. The other two flanking him were dressed in bulkier gear, both holding automatic rifles. He looked up as Nicolas approached. The two men on either side turned almost casually to cover Nicolas with their weapons.

A low moan drifted up from Jonas, like an animal in dis- tress. He was clutching his shoulder, dark red blood gleaming between his fingers in the white light. The man to the left of the boss approached. He nodded at the gun in Nicolas’s hand. Nicolas handed it over.

‘You shot to wound,’ the boss commented, perusing the man on the ground like a mechanic evaluating the work of an apprentice. There was no judgement in the tone, but no doubt either. He knew.

Nicolas opened his mouth to say something about it being a tough angle, then thought better of it.

His host sighed and stepped forward, extending a hand.

Nicolas took it, felt the firm grip again. ‘Congratulations. Join me for a drink?’

In the corner of his eye, Nicolas saw the man who had taken his gun adjust his rifle slightly.

Nicolas gestured down at Jonas. ‘He’ll be okay?’ His voice sounded shaky, like he had just been in a car accident. He couldn’t help it.

His host glanced back down at Jonas, as though he had already forgotten all about the bleeding man at his feet. Jonas stared back up at him. He was hyperventilating now, the breath hissing in and out from between his teeth. The fingers of the hand gripping tight against the wound looked white as bone against the red. Like a skeleton’s fingers.

‘That wound is treatable. Come.’

He put a hand on Nicolas’s shoulder and gently guided him around so that they were facing the house. Nicolas saw him exchange a glance with the second man with a rifle, and then an almost imperceptible nod.

They started walking, the boss’s hand still on his shoulder.

As they got close to the house, two shots rang out.

Nicolas flinched. His host did not react, beyond giving his shoulder a slight squeeze.

‘A good hunt, Nicolas. We’ll have that drink. And then we’ll talk.’

TWO MONTHS LATER

SUNDAY

 

1

 

NORMANDY

 

Up until the moment the two guys pulled up in the shiny red Renault Alaskan, shattering the tranquillity with aggressive revs and a radio turned up too way loud, it had been a very pleasant afternoon.

It was a proper French village tavern: white stone walls, a thatched roof, exposed oak beams inside. Mallory was sitting at the table farthest from the bar, by the window that overlooked the Vire as it flowed endlessly by. The place was sublimely quiet. No conversation, no music. If he closed his eyes, he could hear nothing but the flow of water and occasional birdsong.

The job was complete, and today had seen an early finish after four days of back-breaking work. Mallory could barely feel the chill of his beer glass through the new calluses on his hands. He was tired, but it wasn’t an unpleasant feeling. He had worked hard, bonded with the rest of the crew, and they had finished the task more quickly than the stony-eyed foreman Philippe had predicted. The Corsican, usually so sour-faced, had even cracked the first smile Mallory had seen on him.

Mallory had tried his hand at a lot of jobs for the first time over the last year, since he’d stepped out of the passenger seat of the long-haul lorry that had carried him from Caen. He had done his share of digging while in the military, but this was the first time he had dug a well. It had been tough work, but he had enjoyed it. It was soothing to clear his mind and focus on nothing but the spade. Dig, shovel, toss, repeat, with the hole growing deeper imperceptibly. The repetition of work that kept the thoughts away.

In the age of peace and quiet before the red truck showed up, Mallory had been wondering what the old man in the corner was upset about.

He looked to be in his seventies or eighties. He was solidly built, wide across the shoulders, with a thick bushy beard that was mostly grey with traces of red. He was dressed like most of the men of his vintage Mallory had encountered in this part of France: dark trousers and a loose cotton shirt. The top two buttons were open, showing a thatch of grey chest hair. He wasn’t demonstratively upset. He wasn’t sobbing uncontrollably, or rending his garments, or even knocking back that wine he was nursing, but still, Mallory could tell something was wrong. It was a faraway stare that he recognised.

Mallory made a point of minding his own business, as far as was possible, but something about the old man made him curious. He was of half a mind to walk over and strike up a conversation. They were the only two customers. Or rather, the only two drinkers. A young mother wearing pink and black jogging clothes was spooning mush from a Tupperware container into her baby’s mouth at a table at the other end of the bar.

All of that went out of Mallory’s mind when the red truck rolled to a stop, some kind of raucous French rock band blaring out of the radio.

The old man didn’t react. His thousand-yard stare didn’t waver, even as the baby spat a mouthful of its food out to wail in displeasure, and the young mum shot an infuriated look in the direction of the car park. Mallory shifted in his seat a little so he could see past the brick pillar in the middle of the room and watch as two men got out.

They were both young, late twenties, perhaps. The driver was over six feet tall and the August sunshine glinted off his shaved head. He stepped out of the truck unhurriedly. He was dressed in camouflage trousers and a white sleeveless T-shirt with the logo of a beer company on it. The passenger seemed in more of a hurry, skirting around the bonnet of the truck like he was worried he might be left behind. He was four or five inches shorter and quite a bit skinnier than his friend, and wore a faded denim baseball cap. They looked similar enough to be brothers, but maybe that was more about their dress and demeanour than anything else. The passenger caught up with the driver and matched his pace as they entered the bar.

Mallory picked his glass up and swirled the remnants of his beer as he watched them approach. The driver raised a hand in greeting to the bartender, who was polishing glasses. He acknowledged the two of them with a wary nod. They stopped halfway across the floor and looked at the old man. If he noticed them, he did not react. Then, as one, they turned the other way and looked at the woman and the baby. She definitely noticed them, but avoided their gaze. The driver kept looking at her while the passenger turned his head to inspect the bottles on the shelf behind the bar. So far, they had taken the time to look at everything and everyone in the place except Mallory.

That was how he knew there was about to be trouble. They reached the bar, both of them still studiously avoiding Mallory’s gaze. The passenger in the truck, the one wearing the denim cap, jutted his chin in the direction of the bartender. ‘Laurent. L’habituel, eh?’

The usual.

Mallory’s French wasn’t anywhere close to fluent yet, but it had come a long way over the long, hot summer.

The bartender muttered something that was a little too fast for Mallory to catch, but he was pretty sure it didn’t translate as ‘Right away, sir.’

The driver came up with a rejoinder, then smiled and pulled a roll of euros out of his pocket, waving them to show the bartender he was good for a round.

Mallory rolled his shoulders and put his hands on his thighs. He wanted to be ready for the fight he knew was coming. He reminded himself he wasn’t looking for trouble. A familiar tingle at the back of his neck suggested that wasn’t the whole truth.

The bartender started pouring a couple of beers. Finally, the two men looked over at Mallory. They did it simultaneously, as though responding to a wordless signal.

Mallory felt his pulse slow a little as they approached his table, an almost relaxed feeling. That worried him, because it meant something else was about to take over. As soon as the first punch was thrown, his body would react, and for the duration, proportionality and morality and consequences would cease to be factors. He hoped the two of them would go down easy. It wouldn’t do any of them any good to prolong the fight.

The shaved-headed driver broke into a grin as he reached him. He reached a beefy hand out for the chair opposite Mallory and pulled it out, twisting it around so that the back was facing the table, straddled the chair and sat down heavily, resting his forearms on the chair back.

‘Bonjour.’

Mallory didn’t reply right away. He just stared back at the driver, keeping his own face impassive in contrast to the belligerent grin on the other man’s face. The second man had stayed on his feet. He stood a couple of feet back from the table, between Mallory and the door, his hands clasped behind his back like a weekend yacht captain.

After leaving a pause long enough for the grin to start fading, Mallory returned the greeting.

‘Bonjour.’

‘You are not from here,’ the driver said, switching to English.

‘I’m not.’

Without taking his eyes off Mallory, he raised his voice. Addressing someone else. He was asking someone called Laurent if he knew this anglais, investing the last word with a heavy dose of contempt. After a pause the bartender answered. He called the driver Remy. Said he didn’t want any trouble. Mallory had enough French to grasp all of this, but in truth he didn’t require it. The tone of voice and body language told him everything he needed to know.

It confirmed he wasn’t walking out of here without blood being spilled. Part of him wanted to warn them, but he knew such a warning would have the opposite effect. It would only make the situation worse.

He tried to focus on something mental rather than physical. The two men wanted a fight, so there was going to be a fight. But he was curious as to why.

‘You have a problem with people who aren’t from here?’ Mallory asked mildly.

Remy grinned. ‘I don’t have a problem, friend. Hugo here sometimes has a problem with people who aren’t from here.’ The passenger, Hugo apparently, took the conversational baton and leaned on the table, getting in Mallory’s face in a

way his companion had not done so far.

‘Remy’s uncle’s house was broken into last night.’

Hugo’s accent was thicker. He was less sure of the words. ‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ Mallory said. ‘Has he notified

the police?’

Remy put a hand on his friend’s forearm, tapping it lightly. Hugo held Mallory’s gaze for a moment before straightening up and taking a step back from the table. Easy to tell who the boss was.

‘Of course we spoke to the police,’ Remy said, through a smile that did not reach his eyes. Then even the pretence of good humour vanished. ‘They said it was probably someone . . . not from here.’

Mallory took his time, not wanting to let this guy dictate the rhythm of the conversation. If you could call it a conversation. He glanced around the bar, careful not to let either of the two men completely out of his sight. Laurent the bartender was still polishing a glass that had been clean and dry two minutes ago. The woman on the other side of the room had stopped feeding her baby. Even the baby seemed to be watching. Its mouth hung open, its pale blue eyes mesmerised by the trio in the corner of the bar. The only person not paying attention was the old man in the corner, who was staring into the bottom of his wine glass as though the sediment could tell the future.

Mallory was pretty sure he could tell the future too. It was going to start with him letting them make the first move, and progress to both of them lying face down on the floor.

He cleared his throat. ‘Doesn’t sound like a very thorough investigation, if I’m being honest,’ he said, keeping his face entirely straight.

The two of them exchanged a glance. The one standing, Hugo, looked a little unsure of himself for the first time. The driver, Remy, seemed unmoved. He considered Mallory’s suggestion and smiled again, letting a brief laugh out through his nostrils.

‘We think they’re right. We think it was someone just like you.’

‘Someone just like me,’ Mallory repeated. He wanted to keep them talking for a minute, until the time for talking was over.

‘There have been other break-ins,’ Remy continued. ‘How long have you been in St-Jean? A week? There have been three break-ins in a week.’

Mallory sighed heavily and rolled his head around. He wanted them to know he wasn’t intimidated, but he was tiring of the conversation. The movement also gave him a chance to take stock of his surroundings. What happened next would happen quickly, so he wanted to block out each move in advance.

He was literally backed against the wall. Deliberately so. He made a point of always sitting with his back protected and a clear view of the doorway. But once the punches started flying, he didn’t want to be boxed in. So the second thing he would do would be to flip the table. The second thing, because the first thing he would have to do would be to get Remy to move his thick, hairy forearms from the table. There were a couple of ways to accomplish that. He could throw the last of his drink in Remy’s face. Remy would automatically bring his hands up to protect his eyes. But that wouldn’t accomplish exactly the right effect, because Remy’s

friend was standing by, ready to move.

So he had to take out Remy’s friend first. The farther target. Without taking his eyes from Remy’s, Mallory considered the wine bottle in the centre of the table with the stubby candlestick jammed into the neck. He thought about how it would feel in his hand. The weight of it. The dried wax against the palm of his hand. He visualised grabbing it with one movement and hurling it in Hugo’s face. Bottom first.

The glass probably wouldn’t break, but the nose might.

That would accomplish the other goal. Remy and Hugo were positioned close enough together that in the split second, Remy would not know whether the bottle was aimed at him or his friend. He would get his arms up. And then Mallory would flip the table.

The table would push Remy back and prevent him from grabbing Mallory as he rose.

From there, it would be routine. He would take out Remy first, smacking his face off the brick pillar that he would be lined up with perfectly after the table had pushed him back. Then, depending on whether the bottle had knocked Hugo out already, he could finish the job with an elbow to the bridge of the nose. It would be a smooth transition into that move from slamming Remy into the pillar.

These calculations took Mallory a fraction of a second. He wasn’t worried that he was rusty, or in any doubt he could take these two losers. What he was worried about was unin- tended consequences. Collateral damage. He was worried about what he would do when he stopped thinking.

The old man was close by. What if he had a weak heart, couldn’t take sudden shocks? The woman and the child were on the other side of the bar, but it wasn’t that big a place. A chair could get thrown. Glass might get smashed. The bartender might feel the need to intervene, and he would definitely get hurt. Mallory told himself he had to stay in control and contained, to make sure this was finished as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Remy was waiting for him to say something, perhaps mistaking Mallory’s hesitation for fear. Eventually he relented and spoke. ‘I think it’s time to step outside.’

Mallory shook his head slowly. He spoke without thinking about it, like something dark and ugly inside of him was using his voice.

‘I like it inside.’

He could see in the eyes of Remy and his companion that they knew what was coming next. They didn’t know it was going to happen a beat sooner than they expected.

‘Why?’ Remy said, grinning.

Mallory’s hand went for the bottle like he was reaching for the neck of a snake. The thing inside of him started to take over.

But he froze when he heard the voice from the far corner.

 

 

 

Red Mist is out 24th November in hardback, audio and ebook. Available to order now.