MEET CHARLIE DANGERFIELD

(No spoilers here!)

Chapter 19

Sweat poured off him, water bottle long empty. Ten miles. Two circuits of Tai Tam Park. And still petrol in the tank.

     Dangerfield gazed across Victoria Harbour towards the skyscrapers of Kowloon. Running. Cheapest therapy going. An hour to reflect. An hour to process Liz’s finger-pointing.

     And her direct hit.

     He hooked the heel of his trainer over the handrail at the water’s edge and, as he stretched his calf muscles, checked the running app on his watch. A personal best. And by some margin. He should piss Liz off more often.

     Dangerfield stretched his other leg, then headed off. Uphill. Up or down were the two main options on Hong Kong Island. Up to Bangers & Mash, his go-to café. When in Rome… fuck that.

     Towards the end of Perkins Street, three girls, Filipinos, stepped out from a doorway. Blocking him. On purpose. On business.

     For fuck’s sake. Dangerfield shook his head in despair. It was eleven o’clock in the morning, no sun, cold breeze blowing. And they were in hot pants and crop tops.

     Dangerfield saw traffic lights. One wore red, one yellow and one emerald green.

     “You three must be freezing.” Dangerfield’s watch claimed ten degrees but with the biting wind he reckoned four degrees max.

     “What about you?” Emerald pointed at Dangerfield’s bare legs.

     He wiped the sweat from his forehead and dramatically shook his hand twice at the pavement. “What do you think?”

     “Who you run from?” said Yellow, invading his personal space, her huge brown eyes quizzical, suggestive, rehearsed.

     “Myself mainly.” Dangerfield made a step towards the kerb. “How old—”

     Red and Emerald interrupted together. “Old enough.”

     Yellow stroked Dangerfield’s forearm, “Hey, big boy.”

     “Boy? I’m nearly old enough to be your father.”

     Red ran her hand down his other arm, “Come on then, Daddy.”

     As Red’s delicate cold hand reached Dangerfield’s watch, she jumped. It had begun to vibrate. Intensely.

     Dangerfield saw Bulstrode’s code on the screen. He held it to his ear and answered loudly, “Smith, Hong Kong Police.”

     The girls, looking shocked, retreated immediately.

     “GCHQ said your phone was on vacation in Hong Kong. Not part-timing for the Chinese, I hope.”

     “Not a bad idea, sir. But no. Not on vacation either. Time out.”

     “Well, time’s up, I’m afraid.”

     “New job?”

     “Yes and no.”

     “I don’t do cryptic,” said Dangerfield. He heard Bulstrode clear his throat.

     “I didn’t get a chance to congratulate you about James Green. You ticked all the boxes there. Don’t know how you persuaded him. Excellent work. Excellent.”

     “I sense a ‘but’…”

     “But there’s a fly in the ointment.”

     Dangerfield glanced at the girls huddled in the doorway. They were in deep conversation. In Filipino. Hushed, but urgent. They looked agitated.

     “Does this fly have a name?” Dangerfield asked.

     “Your man Bong.”

     “What? Bong Wu? I’ve an agent watching him.”

     “Well, there’s been a radical development. Completely unexpected. A link between Bong and James Green.”

     “How the—”

     Bulstrode didn’t break his flow. “And our assessment is that if Bong knows about Green, then both Green’s survival, and the mission, could be compromised.”

     Dangerfield could feel his heart rate rising.

     “I cannot stress enough how vital, how absolutely imperative it is, that Green completes his task.”

     Again, Dangerfield tried to speak. Bulstrode ignored him.

     “Some good news though.”

     Dangerfield waited.

     “You’re being promoted.”

     “Thank you.”

     “You’re being made British Ambassador to China.”

     “I see.”

     “For one evening.”

     “When precisely?”

     “Tonight.”

     Dangerfield stared at the sky. How the fucking fuck? He took a deep breath and looked around. The girls had vanished. He hadn’t even noticed them slip away.

     “Is this a ‘need-to-know’, sir?”

     “Of course.”

     “I’ll have to contact Sarah though. I’m due on the Cyprus job. She’ll have to find a replacement.”

     “Keep Watling out of this. She’s not code-cleared. Don’t worry, I’ll talk to her.” Bulstrode paused. “Listen. This operation is Top Priority and Time Critical.”

     Dangerfield checked his watch screen. Call ended. A second later it buzzed again. He read the encrypted message. Instructions. More detailed than usual. Shanghai. He checked the time. Nine hour window. Five to get there. Two to prep. Fuck it, Bangers & Mash it is.

     He turned the corner. The girls were standing beside a parked car, the driver yelling at them in broken English, clearly angry at the girls’ failure to earn. Fear was written across their faces. Red suddenly recoiled from a punch to her stomach.

     Dangerfield checked the street. There could have been tumbleweed.

     No traffic. No pedestrians. No witnesses.

     No excuse.

     Sprinting the ten yards, Dangerfield snapped the pimp’s prodding finger backwards. Before the yell began, he grabbed the man’s wrist with both hands and yanked so hard there were five witnesses to the click of dislocation, the pimp’s head clubbing the top of the car’s window frame. With one foot on the car door, Dangerfield used his body weight to wrench even harder. The man’s head flipped out of the window, a right fist to the temple silencing him.

     Dangerfield could feel the anger surging, filling his head, his muscles firing up as he ripped the man’s body through the open window. It flapped onto the pavement. Lifeless, but breathing.

     He turned to the girls. “Waitress. Study. Anything. But for fuck’s sake, not this!”

     Dangerfield opened the driver’s door, threw the meat back inside and with his foot, shoved it onto the passenger seat.

     “I’ll take him to hospital.” As Dangerfield climbed into the driver’s seat, he picked up a stray brick lying in the gutter and tossed it onto the pimp.

     “And don’t worry, you won’t see this shit again.” Dangerfield smiled at them. “Unless he gets good with a wheelchair.”

     Accelerating away, Dangerfield threw a left and then a right onto Henderson Road. Eighty metres ahead lay a ninety degree turn. And a brick wall.

     He slowed the car to ten and opened the door.

     Edging himself off the driver’s seat, he dragged the deadweight with him, leaving it slumped across both seats. The instant the brick touched the accelerator, Dangerfield felt the car surge and the door try to close. He pushed against it with his left hand, and gripping the steering wheel with his right, planted both feet firmly on the door sill. And jumped.

     He hit the ground running.

     As the car continued to accelerate and break away from him, Dangerfield gauged that its impact speed with the wall would be thirty-five. Maybe forty.

     He slowed to a halt and took a last glance before sprinting back the way he had driven. Run Forrest, run. He reckoned six seconds and counted down as he anticipated the wonderful sounds of impact. The twist of metal, the shatter of glass and the crack of airbags.

     Six seconds exactly.

     “Fucking user,” Dangerfield growled, against the sound of jammed car horn. He turned left onto Black’s Road. Glass fronted offices, closed for the weekend. His head flicked right. Someone was staring at him. Another runner. Same shorts and top. Staring hard. Accusingly.

     Dangerfield looked his reflection in the eye.

     “You can fuck off as well.”