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First pages

Prologue

Columbia 1997

Carefully she put another stick on the pile. If done properly, surely she would win – the pile was becoming very unstable now. Balancing it with the utmost of care she slowly released the weight of her fingers until the stick was sitting atop the pile with no assistance from her. Yes, she thought. He would never be able to beat that one. A breath of wind stirred the grass on the edge of the village which consisted of only a small circle of huts occupying a small clearing in the jungle. The breeze reached out, its fingers touching the sticks and the pile unbalanced, falling to the ground.

A small boy sitting opposite her jumped up with glee and ran about squealing. Yes! he had beaten Akela. Smiling at him she got up and went into the hut. She would need to go down to the river soon for water so that her mother could prepare their evening meal. Akela could hear the delighted yells from Keme as he greeted their father returning from the jungle with fish for their dinner.

Taking the bamboo bucket with her she danced down the track to the river. The jungle was warm and alive with the calls of birds and chatter of monkeys in the tree tops. Her bare feet padded down the well worn path, stopping occasionally to inspect the giant hairy spider sitting on a Bromeliad, and the tiny red and black frog on the trunk of a huge tree. When she reached the river, she submerged the bucket and watched as the water dragged it in the current, trying to take it from her.

Suddenly, she heard in the distance an unfamiliar popping noise crackling through the trees. Startled, she finished the task and ran as fast as she could back up the path, the water sloshing in her bucket.

The sight that greeted her when she arrived back at the village was to haunt her for the rest of her life. She found her mother distraught and screaming over the lifeless bodies of Keme and her father, their blood draining away into the soil. Akela was paralysed on the spot. How had this happened?

In that single devastating moment, the path of Akela’s life was redefined, set to unfold in a series of extraordinary events.

 

Part i, Oxford 2014

Chapter one

This was going to be a high profile death; the cops would be all over it and not a single piece of forensic evidence would be missed. Alice could not afford any mistakes - she had too much to lose.

“Oh wow, this looks so hot.” Larisa’s Moscow accent made Alice laugh. The two girls were upstairs in Larisa’s bedroom. They had just cut and dyed Larisa’s hair shocking pink and were working on putting some black and blonde streaks in it. Larisa was seventeen and had been going to high school in Oxford since she moved to the UK with her father a few months ago. Alice had started at the same school that day in Larisa’s class and after hitting it off, Alice had suggested they hang out after school. Larisa couldn’t say no, Alice was just so cool with her blonde hair piled on top of her head and the sexy way that she wore her uniform.

Larisa had struggled to make friends since starting her new school in England and having another new girl in the class was an exciting chance for her. She hoped Alice would become her friend.

“Sorry about my room, we’ve only just moved in,” Larisa said to Alice when she had first come in. Yeah, thought Alice, it doesn’t really look like a normal seventeen-year-old girls room. Sparsely furnished and devoid of any girly items except a tattered Beyoncé poster and a couple of eye pencils on the dresser, the furniture was mismatched and second hand. There was a narrow single bed against the wall, with a faded blue and yellow duvet cover. The only other furniture in the room was a scratched seventies style dressing table and a school style chair in the corner with some clothes folded on it.

“LARISA,” the heavily accented Russian voice boomed up the stairs, followed by a string of aggressive yelling in Russian. Pretending she couldn’t understand, Alice said to Larisa, “Does your dad want something?” Larisa rolled her eyes, “Yes I better go before he gets angry.”

It sounds like he’s already angry, Alice thought. She had heard him call Larisa down to go buy him another bottle of vodka, and if she didn’t do it now, she knew what he would do. She didn’t really want to know what that might be and suddenly felt sorry for Larisa - she felt she might need to protect Larisa from her father. This wasn’t originally part of the plan but she could improvise, you didn’t get as far as she had without being flexible.

More shouting came from downstairs. He didn’t like the hair. In fact, from what Alice could hear, he was irate about the hair. She heard a scuffle and then a cry from Larisa. Alice ran downstairs to help her and ran into Larisa coming back up with blood running down her chin from a cut on her lip.

“You have to go,” Larisa whispered urgently, a look of embarrassment and horror was spread across her face. “I’m so sorry, he gets like this sometimes. I’m going to go to the store, he needs…. something. Here, go out the back way, it's better if he doesn’t see you.”

Another angry yell rang out from the lounge, he was becoming impatient. Larisa called back in Russian and pushed Alice through a door leading to the kitchen. “Go! I’ll be fine, see you tomorrow okay?... and thanks, for this.” Larisa motioned to her hair, and gave a sad kind of smile. Alice closed the kitchen door, but instead of exiting to the outside and letting herself out, she waited until she heard the front door slam.

She turned and went back through to the lounge, mentally preparing herself for the task ahead. Just as she entered the living room, an empty vodka bottle bounced off the door frame next to her face.

Seeing Alice, he turned his rage upon her. This was her fault the cheap English whore. Well she would get what she wanted, the little tart. The anger in Boris Berezovsky’s eyes turned to a seedy glint as he advanced on her, talking in a lower voice. He thought she couldn’t understand but Alice was fluent in Russian and what he had just described made her feel sick.

She let him advance on her and pin her up against the wall. She let him run his hand up her leg and breathe his foul, alcohol laced breath onto her neck. She pretended she was scared of him and struggled a little, just enough to distract him. As he was fumbling with his trouser zip, Alice slid the needle into his neck and delivered the contents of the hypodermic syringe in one swift action. She knew exactly how to locate the external jugular after putting in countless central lines as part of her medical training. Clearly under these circumstances she did not have time to double check by drawing back venous blood but she had not missed yet and hoped this would not be the first time. For the potassium chloride to work, it had to hit the heart in a bolus to induce myocardial infarction. If she hadn’t hit the vein, it would be too diluted to have any effect whatsoever, and she would have an irate, drunk monster on her hands. Alice fingered the second syringe in her pocket, the one that contained Succinylcholine. Just in case.

She closed her eyes to the spit spraying her face as he cursed her in Russian and grabbed her firmly around the neck. His grip was tight and she struggled to breathe. Fear crept over her, what if I missed the vein? She gasped out an answer in Russian and a stunned look crossed his face when she answered him in his own language. The English whore can speak…. the thought was pushed from his mind as he too found himself unable to breathe.

Clutching his chest, he sank to the ground, desperate to get some air. The pain of his heart muscle dying burned under his sternum and his face turned blue as he struggled for his last breath. Relief flooded through Alice as she rubbed her neck where he had grabbed it.

Carefully using the needle from the syringe to make a deep scratch on his neck to cover the needle mark, she made it look like he had scratched his own neck as he fell. She left the skin cells from the needle on the sharp edge of the door latch.

After checking his nails for anything he may have scratched from her, she knew she had left no other evidence that could be used to identify her. All going well, forensics would conclude that Boris Berezovsky had died of a heart attack but she knew there would be a thorough investigation. There always was when a Russian political exile died. The media always blamed the Russians but Alice was pretty sure that it was MI6 that were paying her to kill him.

Alice collected her school bag and left the house by the front door. As she walked to the bus stop, she looked like any other seventeen-year-old school girl trying to impress both the boys and her girlfriends. Wearing her uniform short and her blouse unbuttoned slightly too far, messed up blonde hair piled up on top of her head, she had the look nailed and Larisa had wanted to be her friend, especially when Alice had offered to show her how to change her own look. It had all been pretty easy really, making friends with Larisa, being invited to the house…

The rest was history. On the back seat of the bus on the journey back to London, she relived the assignment so far. The police would be looking for her and there would probably be some kind of identikit drawing of her on the news tomorrow. She could imagine the broadcast:

“Following the death of Russian political exile, Boris Berezovsky, the police would like to talk to a school girl who was at the house at the time of his passing. Anyone who was in the area at the time of the incident, or who knows the whereabouts of Alice James, are encouraged to contact the police.”

She looked around the bus, first noticing the CCTV camera, silently recording the journey. Hmm, that will have to be dealt with. She hoped that it was the type that automatically connected with the Transport for London server and uploaded its files. She sent an encrypted text message from her satellite phone with some details identifying the bus she was on.

There was a group of teenage girls just ahead of her, talking and giggling at pictures on their phones. She recognised two of them as having been in the class she was in earlier and kept her head down. The less people that noticed her, the better.

The bus arrived into Hammersmith bus station about fifty minutes later and Alice alighted and walked down the sloping concourse to the underground station. She counted a total of three cameras in the shopping mall on her way through and she stopped to send another text message before descending the steps to the Piccadilly line.

Less than thirty minutes after Alice had been recorded by each camera, the video files were mysteriously deleted and replaced with loops so carefully spliced that only careful examination would reveal that there had been any tampering. If it were ever discovered, there would be no way of finding out how it had been done, or more importantly, what had been deleted. This was only made possible because all the council’s CCTV recordings were stored online, accessible to any hacker who had the necessary skills. If they had still used the old system and kept everything filed in their office, it would have been safe from tampering.

Coming down the steps onto the street outside Acton underground station, she had to wait for a girl in a white velour tracksuit to stop looking at her phone and move out of her way. Mobile phones really had turned a whole generation of people into zombies, she thought. If they were circulating her picture on the news that evening, she could count on the white tracksuit girl not to have noticed her!

Alice made her way past terraced houses, along a street lined with old cars and white vans with trade logos painted on their sides. A few high school kids loitered, grabbing the last minutes of perceived freedom before going into their houses to start their homework.

She arrived at a block of ex-council flats on Osbourne road and let herself in with a set of keys from her school bag, jogging up the three flights of stairs. Although she was a little breathless when she arrived on the third floor, this was faster than the rattling old lift which usually had an ‘out of order’ sticker on the door anyway. Alice made her way along the unswept concrete floor of the hallway where dust and litter had collected in the corners, to apartment 328 and entered, letting the door lock behind her. The apartment interior was modestly furnished with second hand furniture and there was some junk mail and a phone bill on the floor made out to Mrs. Aldcot. Mrs. Aldcot did not really exist but she was the registered owner of the flat – she also had extensive medical records, bank accounts and three grown up children, who also owned flats in this apartment building. All of them too had birth certificates and national insurance numbers. They were employed taxpayers who had active bank accounts and good credit records. No-one had ever noticed that the Aldcots were not real.

After removing the school uniform, she placed all of her discarded clothing in a pile on the floor and as she started scratching at her neck with her nails, her skin started to peel. She kept scratching and a thick layer of skin came away. There was now quite a large edge, like the skin that peels after a bad sunburn. Taking the layer of the skin between her fingers she pulled it and the flap grew and stretched. She pulled it up, over her head, effectively removing her entire face and hair. An attractive twenty-eight-year-old woman shook out her long dark hair and ran her hands through it. It had been hot and itchy wearing that disguise.

Wearing industrial gloves and safety goggles, she half filled a plastic container in the kitchen sink with hydrochloric acid and dumped the entire Alice outfit into it – half an hour and it would be completely dissolved.

While she was waiting for the chemical to do its work, she went to the bathroom, turned on the shower and as the water was warming up, she stood in front of the mirror and removed her brown contact lenses to reveal startling grey eyes, the irises ringed with dark blue.

Once the steam was rising, Louisa Clayman stepped in and stood under the cleansing water. Ugh, she wanted to wash herself after touching that Russian – he’d made her skin crawl. After standing under the hot stream of water for close to twenty minutes, she dried and pulled on an NHS cleaners uniform she had taken from the wardrobe. It was Mrs. Aldcot’s work outfit, complete with an identity badge for Gillian Aldcot which could open doors in any card operated building in the country, if its system was hacked and the card’s code put on the network.

She applied some talc to her hair to make it look grey and after pulling it back into a severe bun, very carefully applied her make up in such a way that it made her look closer to fifty than her own twenty-eight years. Finally, she put in hazel coloured contacts and stood back to check the overall effect in the bedroom mirror

Louisa took a seat at the formica covered table in the living room and opened a laptop - one she used only for these assignments, and using a secure VPN and the TOR browser as a platform for her email, she had a fully anonymous connection. Logging in under the identity known as Crail, she informed the hirer that the project was completed. The arrangement was entirely anonymous; Crail’s clients were only known by their username. Whoever it was that had commissioned Crail to kill Boris Berezovsky had already paid the five thousand Bitcoin fee into her ESCROW account and it would be released to her as soon as the client heard the news of Berezovsky’s death - probably before the media found out in fact. That was a clue as to the calibre of the people that her hiring her – they were well enough connected to find out that the contract was completed before the media did in most cases. Crail had already worked for this client a number of times before and they always paid on time so Louisa considered this project finished. When the Bitcoin, the currency of the Dark Web, were finally laundered into British pounds, Clayman Security would be over two million richer. Boris Berezovsky must have been causing some pretty big problems when alive, to be worth that much dead, Louisa thought. Crail had now been operating for eight years and she remembered with a smile, the first big assignment that she had completed with her brother Jack.

Louisa rearranged the bread around the burger patty – why was there always more meat left than bun by the time you got half way through the burger? She wondered as she looked across at Jack, typing furiously on his laptop, a frown on his face. His face relaxed. “Haha motherfuckers, we’re in,” he said to himself and looked across at Louisa, lifted his own burger and took the first bite. “Ugh, it’s cold,” he said, then put it back down and resumed the frown, starting to type again.

Louisa looked around the restaurant, situated on Karangahape road in Auckland, New Zealand. Visibly bored, she sighed. “Don’t worry, nearly done,” Jack said to her as he copied a whole section of code. He had started a business manufacturing fake passports with one of his university classmates - the actual physical passports were made by the friend and Jack made them legitimate by registering them on the Home Office server, along with all the other details required to have a New Zealand passport. Louisa had also heard them talking about the UK server recently and figured that they were expanding the business a little.

“Ok, that should keep him happy for a while.” Jack looked over at Louisa. “Right, now for the real business,” Jack released his Cheshire cat grin. That was what she had always called it anyway – it was the look that he got on his face when he was planning something naughty and knew he was going to get way with it because he had covered his arse. “Right,” he said, with an evil glint in his eye, “this is what I wanted you to see,” rotating the laptop around so she could see the screen. She could see he was signed into Crail’s email on the Tor Mail site and she held her breath as she read the entire email:

Dear Crail,

I have been watching your work closely and must say am very impressed with the way you conduct your business. We require the dispatch of a particularly troublesome man currently living in The Gambia and would be most appreciative of your assistance. Please let me know if this is of interest to you. The fee on offer is £750,000 – I hope this is acceptable.

Kind Regards

Molmox

“Holy Fuck,” she whispered. “That’s over two million dollars.” She looked up at Jack and saw he was grinning so hard he might burst. Until then Crail had only received local requests to take out small time paedos, rapists and other lowlifes but this was in a different league altogether.

“We’re in the big bucks now sis,” Jack said to her. His face turned serious. “We’re going to have to work for it though – this is not going to be easy.” He quickly replied to the email and Louisa stood and said she would go and do some research on The Gambia.

“For fuck sake use a VPN and clear your browsing history when you’re done,” he said to her

Louisa rolled her eyes. “Of course bro.” She gave him a shove and then turning, left the restaurant. Molmox replied to Jack a few hours later with details of the target and they set about planning their first Big-League hit.

***

The name of the man in question was Utibe Oluwafunso. A Google search brought up a discussion forum where it was suggested that maybe he was responsible for the kidnapping of two-hundred Nigerian school girls several months earlier. The girls had never been located and were still missing. “If he is responsible, I’d happily take him out for free,” Louisa said to Jack as they met again at the burger joint the following day.

 

“I’ll just confirm whether that is actually the case,” Jack said to her as he bashed away at his keyboard.

***

They had been there for nearly three hours and she wished she had taken Jack’s advice of staying at home while he did this part, but she wanted to be familiar with the way he operated – she might need to know one day if things didn’t go according to plan.

 

“Fuck, this is a dodgy set up,” he commented to himself and she knew better than to answer him. He was working on cracking the police email server in Nigeria, to see if there was any information on Oluwafunso.

 

He explained it to her as he worked, knowing full well it would be painful but if they were going to do this on a regular basis she really needed to have some idea of how it worked. “First, we need to identify their IP, so what I did there was to send them a spam email and when the delivery status notification (DSN) is sent, it will come into this mailbox here.” He clicked a browser window in which he had a yahoo account open.

 

“Won’t they get suspicious if they see an email from you?” she asked.

 

“It’ll probably just get rejected by the spam filter with all those adds for Viagra, and it just looks like regular spam anyway,” he told her and opened an email advertising a web design service.

He couldn’t get any further until the DSN came back, so Louisa went and got some more coffee and they talked through their plan for the trip while Jack kept an eye on the inbox.

 

It only took a few minutes. “Ah, here it comes - you little beauty,” he said as he resumed his position. “It’s an old Gateway server.” While Jack typed more stuff that was all gobble-de-gook to Louisa, he told her that he was running a netcat connection to banner grab the MTS on port 25. That didn’t make any sense to her either but she could see that this wasn’t stuff that just anyone could do - he had clearly been studying this for years. “Ok,” Jack was saying, “looks like a pretty old version of exim, I think I saw someone bragging about their new Zero-day – hold on a sec.” He clicked open an IRC window and fired off a message and his friend replied a few seconds later. “I’m just trading the Home Office passwords for this guy’s Zero-day vulnerability for recent exim,” he explained to her. He copied the text from the message and pushed it to his own virtual private server, one he had set up explicitly for this operation. “I’ll clean this up when we’re done, can’t be too careful in this game can we?” he looked up at her with a smirk. Watching him typing rapidly, Louisa wondered how many laptop keyboards he had destroyed so far and gave him a questioning stare after the key-bashing had paused for a few seconds. “Holy fuck,” he was staring at the root shell that had popped up and gave her his stupid grin again. “Tell me I’m a mother-fucking genius,” he said. “We’re fucking in.”

 

He ran a few searches through the email on the server, copying and pasting sections onto his desktop. “We can read through all this later,” he said. “Lets just get the fuck out of here now.”

 

The following day they arrived at the check-in desk for Emirates, looking like a couple going on holiday although upon closer inspection anyone could tell they were brother and sister because they both had the same startling grey eyes. They had booked a room in Dubai for seven days and anyone watching them would think they had spent the week relaxing in the hotel.

***

“Airport please,” said the brown haired, brown eyed man as he slid across the backseat of the taxi outside the Sofitel hotel in Dubai to let his wife in. Louisa, dressed as Melinda Carter, climbed in beside Jack, AKA Dan Carter, and winked at him from her large green eyes, her blonde hair falling over her face as she positioned her handbag on her knee. “Bring it on,” she said as the taxi pulled away from the curb.

It was a long and cramped flight to Banjul on a charter airline and Louisa was kicking herself for not bringing any valium with her, feeling strung out by the time the plane landed. There were crowds of people begging outside the airport and also around the hotels which were all protected by walls. This part of Africa had only recently become popular with tourists and the locals saw them only as a source of fast cash. The second any white tourist dared to exit the airport or hotel grounds, the crowds would advance on them, asking for money. “Christ, I feel like I’m in that zombie movie with the shopping mall,” Jack said to Louisa as they ran from the taxi to the hotel. Louisa was glad she had brought a few dark skinned disguise options – being white was not a good way to stay unnoticed around here!

“This place is really bizarre,” Louisa said to Jack a little later when they were reading their menus at a small restaurant down the road from the hotel.

Jack agreed with her. “Yeah, nothing like all those documentaries on TV,” he said. For them it was really foreign, being from New Zealand and having never travelled further than Fiji and Australia. However, in later years when Louisa would travel to neighboring Senegal, she would realise that The Gambia was highly civilised in comparison. Unlike the other West African countries, The Gambia had a steady flow of western visitors, mostly bird watchers looking for rare species attracted to the river delta and it had a reasonable selection of services to cater to them.

“I hope no-one with a peanut allergy ever comes here,” Jack commented and Louisa laughed – there wasn’t a single item in the menu that wasn’t based on peanuts. “I guess peanuts must be the local delicacy,” she said, screwing up her face. Peanuts were not one of her favourites but it looked like she was going to have to eat them to survive here.

“Ah, zo you lika ze peanuts,” the waitress said to her in an unidentifiable accent when Louisa ordered chicken satay to start and beef stew with peanuts as a main.

“No,” she said “I hate them, its just that you don’t have any dishes without peanuts.” The girl looked at her with a blank face and Jack failed to suppress the laugh he was trying to hold in.

“You know, between the zombies, the peanuts and the jet lag, I feel like I’ve smoked some bad weed,” Louisa said to Jack after their meal. He agreed, and they decided to get an early night. Hopefully tomorrow the culture shock would not be quite so bad and then they could get on with the assignment.

The hotel they had booked was a short walk from the address that Molmox had supplied as Oluwafunso’s residence and they had spent a great deal of time on Google Earth recceing the area. However, the important thing now was to check it out with their own eyes.

Louisa woke the next morning with her stomach tied in a knot. Even though she and Jack had spent hours discussing how they were going to pull off the hit, there were so many unfamiliar and unknown things to factor into this one. Jack was already awake, sitting at the desk tapping away on his laptop and Louisa got out of bed and proceeded to make some coffee. They had decided to disguise themselves as a Middle Eastern couple and as Louisa had recently completed a stage makeup course, she’d brought her entire kit out with her. It took several hours, but when they emerged from their room with Louisa in a Hijab and Jack with a black beard, they realised that it had been sheer luck that they had flown in from Dubai with a plane load of other people dressed the same way. They would blend in quite well here even though it was not the traditional dress of Gambia. There was noticeably less harassment from the locals as they made their way down the street and ordered coffee from a cafe fifty yards along the road from the gateway entrance to Oluwafunso’s house.

The girl brought over their drinks and Louisa peeled a stack of bills off the bundle they had exchanged for $50NZ at the hotel. The money was so dirty that it was almost impossible to see the printing. “You might want to wash your hands after touching that,” Jack said to Louisa. She pulled a face.

“Foul isn’t it?” she said. “Although any germs on the money will be on everything. We’ll be lucky if we get out of here with our bowels intact.”

Suddenly distracted, Jack looked past her. “Don’t look, but someone’s coming out of there.”

He watched as three men walked down the driveway and stood at the gate, the one in the middle looking decidedly uncomfortable, glancing about shiftily and fidgeting like he didn’t want to be seen there. “Shit, that’s him,” he said, and Louisa had to summon all her self control not to turn. She was drenched with sweat inside her outfit; in this heat she would normally be wearing a vest top or light summer dress and she felt like she was going to get heatstroke. Jack watched as a car pulled up and the three men got in before it turned and drove away. “We’re going to have to keep an eye on this place – to make sure he comes back.”

Damn thought Louisa, I’m going to die inside this thing.

They consumed quite a few coffees then switched to water at some point during the three hours that they waited for Oluwafunso to return. When he did, the car drove into the driveway and did not come out.

Jack opened Google Maps on his laptop and they examined the buildings and land surrounding Oluwafunso’s house again. It was a large house, set up a long driveway with a high fence surrounding the property. Other smaller houses were backed onto it all around. He had noticed that there were security signs attached to the fence at the front by the gate and had spent some of the time they had been there searching on the internet to determine exactly what had been installed there. “Ok,” he said, raising his eyes from the screen, “the system is supplied by CNET through the local distributor.” He looked at her, the familiar glint and grin appearing on his face. “I think we should go back to the hotel, I just had an idea….”

He sat at his laptop for the next twenty-seven hours with almost no break, just getting up occasionally for a pee, or when Louisa forced him to eat something as he worked. Finally, just as it was getting dark the following evening, he looked up at her “Shit, you know, I’ve actually done it. We better move our arses – as soon as they notice the system is down they can restart it.”

Louisa started work on their disguise – they were going as locals this time and it wasn’t an easy task for her to transform them both into Gambian natives, but a couple of hours later they were both passable as long as no-one shone a bright light on them.

Under the cover of darkness, they both crept up the long driveway – a driveway which had been well protected by cameras and alarms until Jack had remotely shut it all down. After a quick scout around the house, peering through the windows, they spotted Oluwafunso with a group of men sitting around a table drinking and playing some kind of board game. They looked relaxed, and it was obvious that a fair bit of weed was being smoked as well - they certainly didn’t look like they were expecting to be attacked tonight. There were plenty of women in the room with them and it looked from their attire and behavior that they were probably paid company, at least they weren’t there for their own amusement anyway, paid or not. Louisa met Jack’s eyes in the dark “Well I guess this is it.” She took a small crossbow out of her bag and after loading a specially designed hypodermic onto it, aimed at Oluwafunso’s leg and fired it. They only stayed long enough to confirm he had been hit and then legged it off the property before anyone came out of the house to investigate. Louisa knew that the succinylcholine had been delivered to his leg muscle and he would be dead in a matter of minutes if they didn’t get him onto life support. From the looks of that bunch, she doubted they would even be able to carry out CPR until an ambulance arrived, and she also had her doubts regarding the competence of the Gambian emergency services. She didn’t think the ambulance would be turning up with a life support unit and it certainly wouldn’t be there within five minutes.

The assassination caused very little disruption to the local area – from their hotel room they heard just one siren, probably the ambulance, arriving more than twenty minutes after Louisa had fired the crossbow. The next day there was some gossip around the breakfast restaurant and the day after that it was reported on BBC news on the hotel TV.

Jack and Louisa were long gone by then, however. They left early the next morning citing a family emergency and were on a flight from Dubai to Auckland later on that evening. It was the last time they ever travelled Economy Class.

Refocusing on the screen in front of her, she marvelled at how far they had come since then and also at how they had managed to escape without getting caught. Nowadays they had multiple layers of protection, both online and in the real world and still it was a risky business. She had a message in her inbox from Jack confirming that all the CCTV work had been completed.

Louisa remembered the clothes in the sink and got up to check them. The acid had done its work, so she filled the container to the top with sodium hydroxide to neutralise it and then tipped it into the sink to allow the contents to drain away. Next, she turned on the waste master for good measure although it looked like everything had dissolved nicely.

After taking a last look around the flat to make sure she had not left anything, she closed the door behind her. Any one watching would think that the daughter had come home from school and her mother had left for work as an NHS cleaner. Not that anyone in that block really watched anyway - the residents had been vetted by Jack to make sure they were not the ‘watching’ types and of course there were no cameras.

That apartment would be thoroughly cleaned out and she would never use it again after today. Once the story hit the news, everyone would be looking for Alice and someone may have seen her in Acton, or even entering the building.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Rachel lives in the forest with her family on the outskirts of a small town in the Scottish Borders. She studied Science at University in New Zealand before moving to the UK in 1997 and in 2007 set up a medical distribution company with her husband. She began writing when she found herself driving long distances for work every week and started to make up stories to pass the time.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
The idea for Tikopia began after finding a remote uninhabited island in the pacific ocean on Google Earth. Everything after that was pure fiction, except that the name comes from a real Island who's population is at risk of losing their water supply as described in Chapter 14.
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
I learned a lot of things about money laundering, drugs and poisons during my research for this book but the most interesting was definitely the glimpse into the world of computer hacking.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
When the story I had created became too big to keep inside my head.

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