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Tabula Rasa (Gray Fisher #2)


Prologue


The rich mixed aroma of chargrilled meats and beer began its daily takeover as the evening rush hour petered away, such as it ever did in London. Gray turned the corner into the street where the restaurant was located, observant, alert, briefly assessing the pedestrians ahead, every vehicle along the short stretch of wet tarmac. No agenda, no motive; training reinforced by a decade-long habit.

A motorbike roared past, horn tooting a second later to announce the arrival of the guest of honour: former Constable Rob Simpson-Stone. The right indicator flashed, and the bike turned into what Gray knew to be a dead-end alley, an access-and-delivery point for the restaurant and hotel between which it fell. Less than a minute later, when he arrived at the neck of the alley and peered down it, he saw the bike parked at the far end, but no sign of Rob.

Must've missed him. It was no big deal. Gray wasn't concerned about walking in on his own. There was a good chance he'd know most of those in attendance - one that increased in likelihood when he stepped through the doors and discovered the restaurant had been entirely taken over by the Metropolitan Police for the evening. A few heads turned, eyebrows rose here and there in recognition, before they returned to their drinks and conversations. Laughter erupted to Gray's left; another new arrival excused their way past; a hand raised in a wave at the bar - Martina Hedley, standing alone. Gray went over to join her.

"Evening, Ma'am. How are you?"

She'd never been his superior and laughed at his formal address. "Evening, Gray. I'm well, thanks. You?"

"Fine." He squinted, his eyes struggling to adjust to the bar's blue LEDs. "Do we order drinks or wait for them to come to us?"

"I gave up waiting and ordered mine. I'm surprised Rob isn't here yet."

"He passed me on his bike about three minutes ago."

"Oh? He hasn't come in."

Gray saw the bartender heading his way and stepped up, ready to order. "Probably making sure his pride and joy is secure for the duration."

Martina's eyebrow arched doubtfully. Irrespective of Rob's apathy for the evening's frivolities, both knew he was a stickler for punctuality.

"He'll get here sooner or later, I'm sure," Gray said.

"I'd bloody well hope so, seeing as it's his leaving do."

***

Rob barely got his helmet off when the bag came down over his head and he was dragged forcibly to the ground. Before the panic had a chance to set in, he was up on his feet again. His back slammed against the wall, a heavy weight across his chest forcing him to take shallow breaths and pinning him in place. One of his assailants - he could hear two sets of boots - gave a warning shhhh and then nothing else happened.

A minute later, someone said, "Clear." The pressure on Rob's chest eased, exchanged for a strong grip around his upper arms as he was marched back along the alley to the street and manhandled into what he assumed - from the height he had to step up and the heavy sliding door - to be a van. The door screeched shut, and with a painful jolt, Rob was thrown onto his side as they took off into the early evening city traffic.



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