A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.
—Jean de La Fontaine
Dartmoor, 12:13 p.m. Monday, 27th June
Murder wasn’t on Jamie King’s mind when he woke up that morning. By lunchtime, it was ingrained in his conscience.
There he was, immersed in the rich sound of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto Number 2 in C minor, Opus 18; fish and chips in his lap on a double-page spread of The Sun; mouth open, poised to sink his teeth into deep fried cod, when a scruffy-looking guy in faded denims burst into his line of vision hauling a young woman behind him by her curly red hair.
He had pulled over at a beauty spot on Dartmoor after the drive from London to enjoy a solo brunch against a backdrop of rolling moorland and granite tors. Only one other car – a silver-coloured Audi – had been parked ahead of him. Now, dumbstruck, with hot batter crunchy in his hands and his empty stomach pleading for fulfilment, he watched through the windscreen as the woman struggled to break free from her captor.
She howled her protests as the kidnapper ducked her head, booted her into the rear seat of the Audi and jumped in next to her, slamming the door shut. Jamie then noticed for the first time that there was someone sitting behind the wheel: a big man who, even through the car windows, Jamie could see had such toned shoulders, they were straining beneath his T-shirt.
Jamie looked around him for backup. No one was about. He glanced into the rear-view mirror. Only his alarmed hazel eyes stared back at him. In his confusion to free up his hands to call nine-nine-nine, he must have thrown out the phone through the window along with the fish and chips.
The Audi roared off in a spray of gravel.
Damn! The bloody number plate… Missed it.
He groped for the seatbelt, locking it with a snap, and searched for his phone.
Where are you for fuck’s sake?
Abandoning the search, he stabbed the ignition button with a greasy forefinger. The engine started with a throaty purr and revved with a cultured Italianate howl. He threw the car into gear and thundered off in pursuit. ‘Woman in jeopardy’ being his only thought.
He accelerated fast, as if cocooned in the cockpit of a plane, not the front seat of a supercar, then pressed the SmartNav control button, built into the steering wheel, to summon a telephone operator. He needed the police to lock on to the car’s satellite navigation system and track his location. The music cancelled, as the dialling tone rang out through the loudspeaker system. One, two, three rings, and…
“Hello, Jamie. My name’s Lucy. Where are you travelling to today?”
As the car was brand new, he wasn’t familiar with the technology and was taken aback by the operator’s use of his name. Then it occurred to him that his ‘preferred greeting style’ would have flashed on to her screen automatically courtesy of the service provider, Trafficmaster.
“I don’t need a route; this is an emergency. Please call nine-nine-nine and patch them into this call.”
“Which emergency service do you need: fire, police or ambulance?”
“Police! I’ve just witnessed a kidnapping. I’m chasing the getaway car. A silver Audi.”
Jamie was concentrating on what she was saying, when his attention was hijacked by a tiny man dressed in red-and-yellow matador regalia running along the verge ahead. He turned towards Jamie, spreading his arms open wide and waving both hands like a madman as the car swept by. He was still waving in the rear-view mirror as Jamie sped into a sharp, double bend ahead. He raced through it with a series of rifle-shot gear changes. Coming out of the final curve, he drove on into the straight.
“Don’t know yet.”
“Okay, Jamie, I’ve got your location. You’re heading south-west on the B3212, midway between Moretonhampstead and Postbridge in the Dartmoor National Park. We’re contacting the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary as we speak.”
“Thanks, Lucy,” Jamie said, then suddenly clapped eyes on a great black bull strutting out in front of him, ignoring his red Ferrari F12 Berlinetta as if he was King of the Road.
Fucking Hell… Jamie had the finest brakes in the world, and he slammed them on. Tortured rubber screamed, but he feared the bull was dead meat, standing intractably in his path with a blood-curdling Make My Day expression targeted at the windscreen.
He braced for impact.
The beast didn’t lift one hoof to avoid the impending crash. Jamie almost flipped, skidding around him. Sliding off the road and onto the mossy surface of the moor, he struck a chunk of granite at the roadside. He swung the steering wheel round and the car skittered, throwing up clumps of earthy moss. Not until he’d careered back onto the road ahead of the bull did the mighty beast deign to walk on, unbowed and unharmed. Jamie had lost the Audi and punished the accelerator.
“Are you all right?” asked Lucy.
“I’m okay,” Jamie said through clenched teeth. “Have you patched me through to the police yet?”
He heard a ‘ping’.
“Hold on,” said Lucy. “Something’s coming through…”
Voices jabbered in the background.
“An email has just come through from the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary… ” She then hesitated. “There’s a warning not to exceed the speed limit or endanger other road users, or you could be liable to prosecution under the Road Traffic Act 1988.”
Jamie silenced her by switching to ‘Mute’ and concentrated on catching the getaway Audi. Accelerating into three figures, the car almost disintegrated as he shuddered over a cattle grid he’d not seen coming. In the split second it took him to bounce into a short-lived flight, his teeth chattered and his mind-set changed from grim determination to shock and panic. He cursed himself for having taken the scenic route across the moor to avoid the road works and traffic jam at Exminster on the A38 arterial road.
Jamie next saw the Audi pulling out from a hairpin bend ahead. He closed the gap, and tailgated it. He was about to cancel the mute button and have another word with Lucy, when the Audi swerved, cut in front of an oncoming Ford KA and disappeared up a single-track road. Jamie overshot the turn, backed up and continued the chase. By then, the Audi was again out of sight.
The road was barely the width of Jamie’s car. He winced at the sound of brushwood scratching against his precious paintwork. An elderly gentleman with a dog was walking towards him. He dropped into first gear and proceeded at a snail’s pace as they ingratiated themselves into the bushes to let the car squeeze past. Jamie lowered the window to thank him, and asked, “Have you seen a silver Audi?”
The man pointed to a dirt track branching off to the left, some fifty yards ahead. “That way,” he said.
The track wound deep into a valley that looked ominously like 4x4 territory. As Jamie pulled out from a blind bend, he saw the Audi jerk to a halt at an impassable river. Although not wide, it was fast flowing, swollen from weeks of heavy rain. Jamie pulled up under a dying oak tree, its tangled branches little more than gnarled moss-hung apparitions, with the Audi twenty feet ahead, and rather less to the left. There was a dilapidated building on the riverbank to the right, possibly an old tin-miner’s cottage.
Stationary and alone, with the thrill of the chase spent, Jamie felt isolated and vulnerable. Nobody else was anywhere to be seen. All he could hear as he opened the car door was his heart beating and the whirr and murmur of insects. He began to doubt himself. Who was he to take on Scruffy and Muscles single-handed?
A rich guy in the wrong place, at the wrong time…
Common sense came not in the form of internal dialogue, but in the smell of fear. He pulled the car door shut, selected reverse gear, and was all set to get the hell out of harm’s way. Then, a ghost from the past appeared fleetingly in his rear-view mirror: Lady Helen of Shrewsbury. The mere sight of her beautiful oval-shaped face cautioned him against deserting the hostage. Her image, hanging on his conscience, acted as a poignant reminder of the saddest day of his life, the one he had been trying to put to rest for fifteen years, since he was eighteen years old.
Emboldened, Jamie resisted the urge to back off. He wouldn’t have got to where he was in business by giving up when the odds were against him.
Take the initiative. Do something. Wasn’t that how he’d won Helen’s heart at the Lord Hill do? Fortune favours the brave?
But it was the Audi driver who seized the initiative. He flung open his car door and shot out of the vehicle with a kill-you scowl. His gaze boring into Jamie as he took his first step forwards.
Was that the glint of a blade, or a ray of sunlight?
Terrified, Jamie aimed his Ferrari at ‘Muscles’, accelerating but braking pre-impact. There was a thud, a whimper and the pain-filled crunch of cracking bones as he pinned the man between the driver’s door of the Audi and the front bumper of the Ferrari. Jamie then backed off. The man’s knees buckled and his body rocked from side to side. He hit the ground with a surprised look on his face, a curse on his lips.
Jamie cancelled the mute button to re-engage Lucy.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the kidnapper slip out of the rear passenger door, reach inside his jacket and work his way around the front of the Audi to the other side. Jamie’s eyes were glued to the movement of the kidnapper’s right hand inside the jacket. Ignoring the injured driver’s cries for help, ‘Scruffy’ dashed towards the Ferrari.
Was that the glint of a gun barrel?
Jamie revved the engine. Instinctively, he screamed into the microphone, “Lucy, help! He’s got a gun.”
He steeled himself, slipped into first gear and hit the accelerator, ducking down behind the dashboard as far as his seatbelt would permit as a surge of adrenaline flooded his body, making him shake.
Unleashed, the Ferrari surged forward. The last thing Jamie saw before impact was the kidnapper jumping, as if attempting to leap onto the approaching bonnet. Jamie felt the tremors as the kidnapper’s body folded and crumpled; heard the cracking of bones and saw a ragdoll-like shadow catapult over the windscreen. It landed with a bang and a deathly rumble on the roof.
What the fuck? Get a grip. The river’s dead ahead.
Jamie stabbed at the brake pedal but in the still-unfamiliar car, he hit the accelerator instead. Blood was oozing down the windscreen as all four wheels lost contact with the ground and the Ferrari became airborne. He felt the heady sensation of weightlessness when the vehicle swirled around as if performing a slow waltz before gravity intervened with a miraculous near-textbook crash landing on water.
What happened next seemed to come all at once.
In slow motion. Frame by frame. With Jamie powerless to control events.
He heard a muffled splash. Airbags burst into bulky life all round him. Cold water lapped at his ankles. After a period of shock and disorientation where time slowed to a halt, he thought, not in words, but in images and sounds.
The car has crashed. I’m in the river. I can’t bloody swim.
He groped for the seatbelt buckle, fumbling around the airbags, released it and made a grab for the door handle. It would not release. His fingers slithered off the handle and fear took over as he glimpsed his imminent death. For a moment, there was nothing. Just sheer, animal panic until Lucy’s voice filtered through this watery underworld with the words, “Jamie. Did he shoot you?”
“No, I’m bloody drowning instead,” he said, springing back to life.
His next attempt opened the door and he was out of there.
“I can do this,” Jamie repeated three times, before slipping off his beloved Tod’s Gommino blue-suede driving shoes, taking a couple of deep breaths, and launching himself into the water. He smelt rotting vegetation and the pungent stench of dead fish as his nose filled with water. It covered his head for a few anxious moments, then he struck out for the riverbank and doggy-paddled for all he was worth until the water level was shallow enough for him to stand. He waded the last few yards to the riverbank accompanied by Lucy’s panic-stricken voice.
“Police on their way,” she managed to say. “Talk to me, Jamie! Talk to me.”
The ghost of her voice gurgled and sank with the car. Mesmerised by the sound of her voice, the sudden demise of it, and his own survival, he stared at the water’s edge for a long moment, before dragging himself, shoeless, exhausted and sodden, out of the river.
Once on dry land, he was eyeballed by the getaway driver slumped against the door of the Audi. His face was wooden and grey, but his eyes flickered and gleamed with vitriol as Jamie approached.
“You’ve broken both my legs, you crazy mud-fuck!” To Jamie’s surprise, he managed a half smile when he added, “And you’ve written off a two-hundred-grand supercar, you pillock.”
Jamie felt his stomach clench, and he vomited a mouthful of foul river water over the driver.
The man cursed, but said nothing more.
Jamie went to the rear passenger door to release the woman hostage, but the car was empty. Just then, a rustling sound and slight movement from behind the oak tree caught his attention. There she was, the red-head, peering out, ashen-faced; a wild expression in her eyes.
“You’re safe now,” Jamie called out.
“Don’t you come near me, you mad bastard! You’ve just killed my husband.”
Words failed him. Then he became aware of a chorus of sirens in the distance.
“But… they kidnapped you,” Jamie protested. “He dragged you into the car. I saw it.”
“It’s just a sex game.”
“A sex game?”
The term ‘dogging’ came to mind. Jamie wasn’t sure what that meant but had a notion it had something to do with voyeurism and theatrics.
“What are you? Doggers?”
“So what? It’s not a crime.”
“But what about the other guy, the driver?” He gestured towards the damaged Audi.
“That’s my car! You rammed it. Dillon’s my brother-in-law.”
Meanwhile, the cacophony of sirens was growing louder.
“Yeah, man, they’re coming for you,” Dillon, propped up against the Audi, said weakly.
Jamie ignored him and addressed the woman. “But they brought you here?”
“I fucking live here!” she shrieked, pointing to the grey-roofed cottage half hidden by overgrown hawthorn bushes.
He stared at the old building in disbelief. It looked more like a ruin than a home.
“It’s. Our. House.”
“But – the gun?”
Police cars and ambulances had arrived and the occupants of the first patrol car sprang out. Jamie’s mind raced, trying to figure out how to rationalise this disaster. Explain what had happened.
He started towards them, words at the ready to explain how there’d been a misunderstanding.
“He’s the killer!” screamed the woman, pointing her finger at him.
“Arrest him,” croaked Dillon, spitting blood, propped up against the Audi.
“Put your hands up,” said the nearest uniform. “Stop moving. Now!”
Jamie was about to raise his hands, but slipped on the mossy surface and slithered towards the police constable, who suddenly drew his Taser.
“Stop or I fire!” was the last thing Jamie heard before his life changed – forever.
When the Taser hit, Jamie thought he’d been struck by lightning. Waves of irregular pulses surged through his body, firing up his sensory and motor nerves then locking his muscles tight. All this was administered by two dart-like electrodes in the form of long copper wires fired from the Taser, one of which became embedded in the frontal part of Jamie’s neck as if a fisherman had snagged him – ripe to reel in – on a hook at the end of his line.
The other electrode struck him on the chest and burrowed into the crinkles of his silk shirt, still wet from the river and clinging to his skin. To begin with, it felt like an explosion – an almighty thump – with heavy-metal gravity pulling at his bones. After the initial shockwave, the reverberations pitched through his liver, his lungs, his heart and his brain, making his ears howl.
When the pain ceased and he became aware of his predicament, he was alarmed to find the configuration of his fingers, on the upward approach to his neck, where the electrode had landed, mimicked that of a person about to attempt self-strangulation.
“Is this what fifty thousand volts can do to a man?” Jamie muttered, more to himself.
“I’m arresting you on suspicion of murder,” said the bright spark who’d fired the weapon, as Jamie fell exhausted to the ground at his feet. Although the policeman’s voice sounded muffled, as if he was underwater, another’s words came all too clearly…
It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.