The Chemical Reaction

Fiona Erskine


Fine art auction, London, England

     A hush fell over the auction room as the final lot was brought to the table. A dark-suited man carried the case with exaggerated care. He placed it on a plinth, donned cotton gloves and carefully unpacked Lot 66. With a flourish, he swept aside the green velvet cloth to reveal a jade statue on a honey-coloured base.

     A murmur of excitement rippled round the room.

     ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Lot 66.’ The auctioneer mounted the rostrum and adjusted his microphone. Despite his youth, eccentric taste in bow ties and foppish blond hair, there was no doubt who controlled the room. Cool blue eyes appraised the audience, a mix of art lovers, private investors, journalists and the odd incongruous pensioner perhaps seeking warmth or the company of strangers. He waited for complete silence before continuing. ‘A Qing dynasty wedding cup. Approximately three hundred years old, this is the very finest Chinese jade mounted on a base of xenotime, and the only one of its kind.’

     The jade statue glowed under the spotlights: milk-white nephrite, almost translucent, with the faintest tinge of sea green. The wedding cup consisted of two slender cylinders, each one the diameter of three fingers. A dragon encircled the male chalice, its jagged spine winding around the outer edge in a graceful helix, head raised, mouth open to reveal sharp teeth. The female vessel was laced with flowers and strings of tiny, perfectly carved pearls. A phoenix, wings spread to embrace the male and female sides, drew them together. So much intricate detail, and yet the wedding cup stood only two hands high and two fists wide on its polished crystal base.

     The auctioneer flicked a lock of hair from his forehead.

     Qianlong Emperor ruled China from 1735 to 1796. A man of great taste – poet, musician, sculptor, collector – a warrior and a consummate politician, he was exquisitely sensitive when it came to objects of art, inventively barbaric regarding the murder of his enemies. A man of his time? Or a demonstration that for great men,’ he paused and smiled at a woman in the middle row, ‘and great women, the appreciation of beauty goes hand in hand with success.’

     Video cameras relayed an image of the object onto giant screens as the white-gloved assistant rotated the plinth. He turned it slowly to allow everyone in the room, and the more serious bidders connecting remotely from homes and offices far away, a chance to admire the magnificent workmanship.

     ‘Do I have an opening offer? Ladies and gentlemen, who will start the bidding for this splendid object?’

     The auctioneer tossed back his blond locks and stared directly into the camera.

     In Vladivostok, Russia, a ship’s horn boomed out of the darkness. The long mournful chord echoed between the cliffs of the Ussuriysky Gulf.

     Dmytry Zolotoy gripped the arms of his chair, light-headed with excitement as he watched the London auction on the screen. One arthritic hand strayed to his shirt, open at the neck, following the links of a chain to a jade pendant. He had waited half a century for this: the chance to square the circle, the moment to put things right, to make himself whole again.

     He twisted his silver propelling pencil and wrote a number on the pad in front of him before pushing it across the desk towards his secretary.

     She raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow, so thin and smooth it might have been painted on. ‘Sterlingov?

     He gave a sharp nod. ‘Da.’

     She spoke into the phone, glossy crimson lips pursing and stretching in elaborate enunciation. ‘One million pounds sterling,’ she said.

     Dmytry surveyed his private office, chest tightening with each tick of the mantelpiece clock, an invisible vice squeezing his ribs against his spine. What if the line of communication broke? Why hadn’t he sent someone to London in person? Someone like Timur, the only one he really trusted. Why? Because Timur was with his swim team, winning medals for Russia. Timur wasn’t ready for this, for all the baggage that went with it: not yet.

     His secretary was talking into the phone, replying to some question.

     ‘Prinyato? ’ His jaw began to ache.

     She covered the mouthpiece with her hand and nodded. ‘Horosho.’

     The auctioneer held up a hand. ‘I have a bid of one million pounds.’ If he was surprised by the opening bid on his screen, almost double the reserve price, he betrayed not a flicker of emotion. ‘Any advance on one million pounds?’

     A nod from the audience, a heavyset man with one hand clamped to an earpiece.

     ‘Two million.’

     A young Chinese woman raised her auction brochure. ‘Three million.’

     The male bidder nodded again.

     ‘Four million pounds. Am I bid five million?’

     Sun Chang paused to admire the lights of Hong Kong twinkling over the dark water of Kowloon Bay. A faint rhythmic splashing from the deck told him that his daughter had already arrived. He drew up a lounger and waited for Mico at the shallow end of his rooftop swimming pool.

     ‘Dad!’ She raised herself from the water. He held out a towel. ‘How was the shoot?’ ‘Cancelled,’ she said.


     Mico climbed the tiled steps and swapped the towel for a bathrobe, so large and fluffy that her slim body disappeared into its folds.

     ‘Five.’ Sun Chang said into his phone. ‘Work?’ she mouthed.

     ‘Pleasure.’ He gave her the auction brochure open at Lot 66. ‘What do you think?’

     She studied the picture of the Qianlong wedding cup. ‘Incomplete.’


     ‘The lids are missing.’

     He peered more closely. ‘How come you know so much about Qianlong jade?’

     She blushed and looked away.

     Sun Chang frowned and opened his laptop, clicking onto the Art Police website. There it was, an old photo from the Kaifeng Museum. The same exquisite cup, but with a tiny flower covering the female vessel and a circle of dragon fire atop the male one. He zoomed in on the image, inspecting the object rotating slowly under LED lights in London. Sure enough, he could make out two tiny holes, eyelets where hinges of silver thread would once have secured a little cover for each cup.

     ‘Damn, you’re right.’ He sighed.

     Mico inspected the photo. ‘It is beautiful, though.’

     ‘The buyer will be held to ransom by whoever has the missing lids.’ Mico peered over his shoulder. ‘Last photographed in the 1930s. Before the Japanese invasion, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution. Two lost discs of white jade, each the size of a coin. They’ll never be found.’ ‘So, should I keep bidding?’

     In China, Ru turned up the volume on her new smartphone and listened.

     ‘Six million.’

     The tiny screen was only a few centimetres wide. There was no need for better resolution. The jade statue on the xenotime base was as familiar to her as her own hands.

     ‘Seven million.’

     She stroked the jade brooch pinned to her collar; the carved flower was all she had left.

     ‘Eight million.’

     Several of the bidders had dropped out, but two remained, each one determined to win. And two was all it needed.

     ‘Nine million.’

     In Vladivostok, Dmytry’s hand began to shake as he wrote a new number. He tried to lift his left arm to steady his right, but it remained obstinately at his side, as if made of lead.

     The silver pencil clattered to the floor. He grasped the pendant that hung from a chain around his neck, clutching the carved circle of dragon fire as if it might save him.

     He shuddered and exhaled a rasping breath, his skin ashen and damp.

     ‘Gospodin!’ His assistant dropped the phone and ran to his side. Chto ne tak, nezdorovy?

     ‘Doktor . . .’ Dmytry gasped.

     ‘Do I have eleven million pounds?’ ‘Ten million, five hundred thousand?’

     ‘Ten million, two hundred and fifty thousand?’ ‘Ten million, one hundred thousand pounds?’

     ‘Any advance on ten million pounds? Ten million pounds it is, ladies and gentlemen.’ The auctioneer raised his gavel and looked around the room. ‘Lot 66 sold for ten million pounds. Going, going. . .’ He struck the lectern with the gavel. ‘Gone!’

     In the London auction house, the journalists crowded the lectern, trying to see the screen.

     ‘Can you give us the buyer’s name?’ ‘Do you have a name, sir?’

     ‘Who’s the buyer?’

     The auctioneer threw his head back, the untidy mane of blond hair bouncing up and down. He tapped his nose. ‘The buyer wishes to remain anonymous.’

     ‘The seller, then?’ ‘The seller’s name, sir!’ ‘Provenance, please?’

     A retired metallurgist was the last to leave the London auction house by the front entrance, lingering to get a closer look once the crowds had cleared. Although far from immune to the beauty of the jade carving, his principal interest was the xenotime base. Quite extraordinary close up, the photographs didn’t do it justice. He’d never seen such large and flawless crystals of the rare metal phosphate. He wished he’d brought his Geiger counter, to gauge the radioactive content. Rare earth ores from China, monazite and xenotime, had always arrived in his lab as greyish-brown powders or dull lumps of partially crushed rock. Pure translucent crystals were unbelievably rare.

     He chuckled to himself as he collected his hat and umbrella. If the prices of rare earths continued to rise at the same crazy rate as they had these past few months, the xenotime base might soon be worth as much as the jade statue.

     He pulled up his collar and stepped out into the rain.

     The woman from the middle row slipped out sometime later, by the back door, unseen.




Twenty nautical miles from the Crimean coast, Black Sea

     Dark clouds raced in from the east, the yacht creaking and sighing as it sped towards land in a desperate attempt to outrun the approaching storm.

     Jaq grasped the wheel, the varnished wood smooth and warm under her hands, staying the course, filling the sails, running for shelter. The yacht was a living thing beneath her bare feet, bucking and twisting, stretching and straining, rolling and slewing.

     A crimson glow lingered above the hills as the sun dipped below the wine-dark sea. Calm water lay ahead. Chaos and darkness, behind.

     The rendezvous had gone smoothly, the ‘cargo’ picked up in the Crimea, delivered at the appointed time and place, twelve nautical miles from shore.

     Mission accomplished.

     A flash of silver lightning split the sky, illuminating the deck.

     One . . . and . . . two . . . and . . .

     Giovanni worked around her, trimming the spinnaker sheet, keeping the huge sail filled as the boat rolled, wrenching every ounce of speed from the Frankium.

     Five . . . and . . . six . . . and . . .

     She looked up at the sails, perfectly set like the wings of a massive bird, propelling them over the ocean.

     Ten . . . and . . . eleven . . . and . . .

     They worked well together, just the two of them. Jaq setting the course, both hands on the wheel, keeping the wind behind them, optimising their speed. Maximising tension, minimising resistance. Constant small adjustments. Watching and listening, sensing, anticipating.

     In contrast to Jaq’s pool of stillness at the helm, Giovanni darted from side to side, a lithe dynamo in constant motion. Synchronised motion. Perfectly attuned to each other’s needs. In and out of bed. His dark curls blew about his face in the wind, eyes glinting in the gleam of the running lights, brown irises merging with dilated black pupils as he adjusted his vision to the gathering darkness. His skin was tanned by sunshine, weather-darkened by a life lived in the open air. He wore a striped T-shirt, the fabric plastered to his broad chest, damp with sweat and sea spray, the long sleeves rolled back to reveal muscled forearms. His blue chinos ended above bare ankles. Rubber soles squeaked as his white plimsolls scooted across the teak planking of the foredeck, his compact, wiry frame twisting and turning, bending and stretching.

     They couldn’t carry this much sail if the gusts increased. At her signal, Giovanni clipped his harness to the jackstay and started forward to drop the spinnaker. The symbol on the billowing white nylon – a black box containing the letters Fr, the chemical symbol for the eighty-seventh element in the periodic table – wrinkled and folded as the nylon sail spooled onto the deck. Giovanni bagged the sail and dropped it down the forehatch.

     Fifteen . . . and . . . sixteen . . . and . . .

     A massive wave lifted the stern and the boat rolled. The wind snuck behind the mainsail and forced it hard against the preventer. It rattled, straining to break free.

     Jaq spun the wheel, trying to stop the boat from broaching, but it wasn’t responding.

     ‘Gybe!’ Jaq bellowed.

     Giovanni ducked as the preventer snapped and the boom scythed across the deck, the mainsail rattling like machine gun fire before billowing out on the other side. The boat righted and steadied itself as she brought it back on course. Giovanni waved a fist in mock anger.

     That was close. Too close. The boat was answering the helm again but it felt sluggish, no longer smoothly responsive and finely tuned. What had changed?

     Giovanni must have sensed something too. ‘Troppo scuro!he hollered. Troppo agitato!Too dark. Too risky. She mimed her reluctant agreement to reduce sail. He put a reef in the main and rolled in some of the staysail.

     Twenty-five . . . and . . . twenty-six . . . and . . .

     The yacht pitched and yawed, the waves rolling past the hull as it barrelled downwind. A shudder ran through the craft from prow to stern.

     Twenty-eight . . . and . . . twenty-nine . . . and . . .

     Thunder cracked and boomed, the roar of an angry sky dragon, threatening from on high.

     Twenty-nine and a half seconds. Jaq did the mental calculation. Thunder and lightning happen at the same time, both caused by an electrical discharge from heaven to earth. Or cloud to sea, in this case. The delay in perception is only due to the different speeds at which light and sound travel. Speed of light 299,792,458 metres per second: instantaneous to all intents and purposes. Speed of sound 343 metres per second. Twenty-nine and a half seconds between the light and sound reaching them meant the storm was ten kilometres away and closing. It would hit the boat long before they made land. And hit them hard. With winds approaching  100 km/hr, 50 knots, they had less than six minutes. All around was darkness; only the rasp of sea spray on her skin, the shrieking wind howling across the Black Sea.

     Had she been wrong to release the crew? Essential to the rendition, but after capturing The Spider – the criminal mastermind behind a chemical weapons factory – and rescuing his prisoner, double agent Camilla Hatton, Interpol had taken over. Sending the crew away  with Interpol had seemed the obvious thing to  do. More than obvious – necessary. The crew were mercenaries, soldiers not sailors, the right men for a dirty job. Task complete, Jaq wanted nothing more than to forget the mission, forget the bloodshed and forget her own part in it all.

     After the lightning, then the thunder, came the scent, borne  on gusts of wind, the familiar metallic smell of ozone, the telltale chemistry of the sky.

     And another scent. Testosterone and sandalwood. Giovanni appeared beside her. ‘It’s getting wild.’

     Jaq cocked her head and appraised him. ‘Shall I tie you to the mast?’

     A shadow passed over his face as he handed her a life jacket. ‘Put this on.’

     She pulled it over her head and tightened the buckle. ‘When this storm is over, let’s find a quiet bay somewhere and—’

     She stopped as his expression darkened. What did she see there? Something new. Was it fear? No; Gio was in his element out here in the storm. Something had changed between them. Gone was the easy intimacy, replaced by a new reserve.

     ‘What’s wrong?’

     He put a finger to her lips.

     ‘I need to check something.’ He turned away and dropped through the hatch.

     Jaq stood alone on the deck, fighting the untrammelled forces of nature. No time to think about Gio right now. The yacht was increasingly hard to handle. Even with reduced sail she was struggling to maintain course, to keep the wind in the sails, to stop the boat broaching again.

     Giovanni popped his head up from the hatch, his eyebrows meeting in a frown.

     ‘Water in the cabin,’ he shouted. ‘I’m going down to investigate.’ Lightning split the dark sky, fingers and tongues of silver all around. The shriek of wind in the rigging vied with the crash of the sea against the hull of the yacht. The waves were getting bigger and stronger, foaming salt water sluicing down the deck.

     The boat vibrated from the aftershock of another thunderclap. And kept on quivering. Jaq stood still. The juddering beneath her feet felt different. Not the familiar tremors of the craft yielding and rebounding. Something less elastic, something tearing and wrenching. Something below the waterline, dampened by the sea and yet violent enough to be sensed on deck.

     A sudden screech, louder than the wind, than the waves, louder than thunder. The boat itself was crying out. Rebelling. Out of control.

     The boom heaved across and then back, the yacht pitched and yawed. She was falling, sliding across the sea-drenched deck, halting her slide by grabbing the jackstay. Jaq lay panting, opening her eyes wide to make sense of the dark shape that rose up in front of her.

     No time for panic, or for despair – the boat was going over. ‘Gio!’

     Hand over hand, she hauled herself up the tilting deck away from the water.

     The boat continued to heel as another massive wave caught her broadside.

     Merda! One choice, two options.

     Option one was to use the motion of the boat, dive under the starboard rail as the boat turned upside down, use the swell from the capsize to throw herself clear, facing the full fury of the sea.

     Option two was to stay where she was. Easier for a rescue vessel to find. Remain in the boat. Allow it to roll over her. Swim to an air pocket, pull herself out of the water into a cave protected from the waves. Hope that it would not sink, rely on the inherent buoyancy, trust in a well-maintained compartmentalised design to ensure that the Frankium remained afloat.

     Trust. Could she trust anything connected to Frank Good, the owner of this wretched craft? Given the evidence so far? Was there even a choice?

     Jaq took a deep breath. As the deck thundered overhead, she plunged into the water. The shock of immersion gave her new strength. She swam down, kicking wildly, scooping the water in mad, desperate strokes as the wounded boat completed its death roll. As she emerged a huge wave crashed over her. Tumbling and turning, she surfaced, only to be buffeted by a new wave, at the mercy of the angry sea.

     Something rose beneath her, erupted from the water and arced through the air. The life raft had launched itself and inflated. By the time she reached it, she no longer possessed the strength to haul herself on board, but she caught a tether and clung to the side.

     A flash of lightning lit the upturned hull of the Frankium, bobbing on the waves, a pale sea creature.

     No sign of Giovanni. She had to get the raft to the upturned boat and send him a signal.

     She started to swim back towards the yacht, towing the raft behind her, but the currents were against her, arms aching as the distance only increased.

     How to get out of the water and into the raft? It was no use fighting the waves. Could she use them? She positioned herself between the next wave and the raft, hoping to surf above it. Bad idea. The force of the wave slammed her into the side, knocking her breath away so that she almost lost hold of the rope. Burra! If at first you don’t succeed, try something different.

     Many years ago, she had learned how to right a kayak. Johan, then her instructor, now her best friend, had superb upper body strength, but she always beat him in the timed drills. Brains over brawn. Use the buoyancy as your friend; let physics do the work. Time to apply that here. Once her breathing was almost back to normal, she repositioned the raft between her and the next wave, tipping the side towards her until it was almost perpendicular, grabbing the ropes inside. As the wave passed underneath, the raft scooped her up and she collapsed, like a flapping fish, into the bottom of the vessel.

     She lay on the rubber floor for a few minutes, gathering what was left of her wits, then scrabbled around for the paddles and a waterproof pouch of survival gear: flares, water, energy bars, first aid kit, compass, rope, a handy-billy block and tackle, knife.

     Where were they? She checked the compass. North led back to Crimea, east to Russia, west to Bulgaria, south to Turkey, the direction they had been heading. There was no sign of land – black ocean pitched and heaved in all directions – and no sign of her captain.


     The worst of the storm had passed, the intervals between lightning and thunder extending, the intensity decreasing, the wind dropping, the waves subsiding.

     She let off a flare. If Giovanni was already in the water, then he’d soon find her. She unwrapped an energy bar and washed it down with a swig of fresh water. Then she wrapped herself in a blanket, took up the oar and paddled towards the upturned boat.

     As she drew closer, she could see the rudder and skeg, but where was the keel? The huge underwater fin stuffed with five tonnes  of lead had only one job – to keep the boat upright. Nothing remained but a tear in the hull and jagged holes where the keel bolts should be.

     ‘Giovanni Fantucci!’ she yelled as loud as she could. She brought the life raft alongside the stricken, upturned yacht to where the cabin should be, and struck the side with an oar. Was it her imagination, or was there a faint noise in return? She knocked again, twice this time.

     Then listened. Nothing.

     She tried again, smashing harder, scanning the water, expecting him to emerge: his flashing white teeth and dark brown eyes. And then came the reply. Three faint taps, three scratches, then the taps again. Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot. SOS. Giovanni was under the wrecked boat and needed help.

     Heart racing, cold hands fumbling, she threaded the life raft’s painter around the rudder shaft and tied a bowline. She set off another distress flare before diving into the dark water. Her life jacket fought against her, pulling her back. She surfaced and removed it, tossing it back into the life raft before diving again, using her hands to pull herself under the boat, jackknifing under the rail and swimming up through the companionway into the cabin. If she didn’t find air soon, she was not sure she could make it out again. Her lungs were bursting, close to the point of no return. She took a gamble, let go of the rope and kicked upwards.

     A hand came down and caught hers, guiding her into an air pocket. She took a breath. Deus. He was alive. She took another breath. And another. Bolas, it was worse than she thought. There was barely enough room for Giovanni, and the water was up to his shoulders. The air, what little of it there was, was stale. No: worse than stale. Oxygen-depleted.

     ‘Lucia?’ he whispered.

     Who was Lucia? No time for that now.

     ‘It’s Jaq. I’ve got the life raft. Can you swim out with me?’ ‘Trapped,’ he gasped. ‘Can’t move.’ He was panting hard.

     Merda. Alive, but only just. And her presence was using up his oxygen supply. She felt around his body. One arm was wedged at a strange angle between a loose floorboard and the base of the mast. She tried to yank the fallen board free, but even before he screamed, she knew his arm was trapped and broken.

     ‘I’m going to get you some air. Then I’m going to get you out of here.’

     No reply.

     ‘Gio. Don’t leave me. Don’t give up. I need you.’ Silence.

     ‘Lucia needs you.’ Whoever she was. ‘Lucia.’ He sighed.

     How could she get air to him? There was nothing in the life raft: no oxygen tank, no scuba mask, no tubing. Even the life rings were foam-filled.

     Could she open an air hole from the top? The knife would never pierce the hull. She had no drill, no saw, no blowtorch.

     A plastic bowl floated past, followed by an empty Tupperware box. Tupperware. Suddenly she knew what to do.

     ‘Gio!’ she whispered. ‘I’m going to get you out of here.’ Jaq kissed his cold cheek. The stubble rasped against her lips. She took a shallow breath and dived down.

     She used the position of the mast to guide her to the locker. She yanked it open and scrabbled around until she found it: the little Tupperware box confiscated from a man who’d tried to kill her. She stuffed the box into the waistband of her shorts. You never knew when a kilo of Semtex might come in handy.

     There was only one way to free him. It might kill Giovanni. Deus perdoa-me. But if she did nothing, he would die anyway. Alone in a cold, dark cave, suffocating in his own exhalations. She was out of other options. Better a bang than a whimper.

     Jaq was going to blast what remained of the Frankium to smithereens.

     And pray that she didn’t kill her lover.

Melrose, Scotland

     The river crested a weir and cascaded into a dark pool beside the old mill. Sleek trout swam in wide circles, the toffee-coloured water stained by peat and topped by a creamy foam from decaying vegetation: green figwort and sand leek, water mint and forget-me- not, yellow cress and flowering rush.

     An osprey circled the pool before turning west, soaring over the old Cistercian monastery in a parallel wooded valley. Beech trees and sycamore, ash and oak, chestnut and hawthorn, Scots pine and larch formed a dense wood that sheltered and concealed the exclusive clinic operating in the heart of the Scottish Borders.

     Inside the medical wing, a man with a white coat and stetho- scope sat at a desk taking notes while his patient, the owner of the yacht Good Ship Frankium, lay on a brocade couch and stared at a plaster rose in the ceiling.

     ‘In conclusion, Mr Good, you think you’re ready to go back to work?’


     Not that he’d needed sick leave at all. The halfwits in Zagrovyl Human Resources had forced him to take time  off.  Claimed he’d been behaving erratically. Ppffftt! One person’s erratic was another’s proportionate response to events. After all he’d been through, everything he’d done to protect the company, his actions had been wholly reasonable.

     Yes, there was the unfortunate incident during the team-building event. He could see how it might look from the outside. But the fault was with the team. Left alone, he could handle anything, even the flashbacks. It was other people he couldn’t stand. Especially the idiots from the Teesside factory. All fake concern to his face while they stuck knives in his back.

     He wasn’t sick; Zagrovyl wanted to keep him out of the way during the investigation. And it suited him to lie low for a while. Until it was safe again.

     Frank had made a show of resisting, driving a hard bargain, relenting only after his employers agreed to fund this place – a golf retreat. The executive health insurance wouldn’t cover it, but Zagrovyl owed him. Big time. And although he hadn’t needed the time off, he had to admit he felt better for it. Calmer, leaner, fitter, stronger.

     ‘How about the nightmares?’

     A mistake to discuss his subconscious with this overpaid shrink.

     He’d have to be more careful. ‘Manageable.’

     Still waking him up. Always a version of the same dream. Trapped in a silken web, unable to move, he screamed himself awake, drenched in sweat. Nothing a shower couldn’t fix.

     ‘And the tremors?’

     Frank held out one hand and then the other. Steady as a rock. The solo golf practice had improved his muscle control as well as his stroke.


     Fine, so long as he didn’t think about . . . He stuffed both hands under his buttocks as he tried not to picture her, the woman who had caused all the trouble.


     The doctor bent down to check his blood pressure.

     ‘Hmmm. Still high. Let’s give it another few days, shall we? Stay off the stimulants – coffee, tea, alcohol. I’ll adjust the medication, and then we can review next week.’

     ‘I’m ready to leave.’

     ‘I can’t force you to stay, but you’re not ready to go back to work.’

     Arrogant bastard. What did he know about work? Or whether Frank was ready? The pulse in his temple began to throb as he felt the anger rising.

     ‘The weather is fine. Play some more golf. Take time for yourself. Take a trip. Catch up with old friends.’

     Old friends? Ha! The only social event in his calendar was a funeral.

     ‘You can continue as an outpatient at my Newcastle clinic. We can work on relaxation techniques. Discuss what might provoke a stress response. Find strategies to recognise and master the triggers.’

     Triggers. The Spider was in custody; Frank’s lawyer had written with the news from Interpol. The man who had tried to trick Zagrovyl into supplying a chemical weapons factory was going to prison for a very long time. It was safe to come out of hiding. Safe to go back to work. There was only one potential trigger at large. Dr Jaqueline Silver.

     Recognise and master.

     Frank closed his eyes and sent up a silent prayer that she wouldn’t make it back.

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