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By James Steel

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Alex’s alcoholic father had died recently and he had been having sporadic conversations with lawyers—when the phones worked—about whether he could pay the death duties and keep the old hulk of Akerly, where his ancestors had been in residence for nearly a thousand years. He increased his stride, eager to get home. He scanned the tree-lined avenue ahead, with its smart Victorian houses. Nobody was visible on the pavements but there was a new Range Rover, with blacked-out windows, parked over the road from his house.

The woman listened to him with hands on her hips, mouth set firm, her gaze level and eerily calm. Sergey finished speaking and looked at her imploringly. She held his gaze for a long moment, neither assenting nor dissenting, before turning her head away. He fumbled in his suit pocket, pulled out a small jewelled box and pressed it into the palm of her hand. She glanced at it wearily, sighed, and tucked it into a little handbag hooked over one shoulder before walked away from him. As she moved past Alex, her head turned towards him and they looked at each other for a split second.

All Alex was focused on now, though, was getting his hands on the reassuring black grip of his Glock. He hurried past Wandsworth Bridge Road, casting a glance over his shoulder; the man was still following him on the opposite side of the street. He carried on into well-heeled Fulham and finally turned left into Bradbourne Road, the quiet street where the Devereux family maintained their London residence when they were not in Herefordshire. Well, that was how it was in the old days, anyway. Alex’s alcoholic father had died recently and he had been having sporadic conversations with lawyers—when the phones worked—about whether he could pay the death duties and keep the old hulk of Akerly, where his ancestors had been in residence for nearly a thousand years.

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