“The First Hit” Excerpt

The black Lexus was parked on the Heights. The uber-expensive, everyone else can go fuck themselves, privately policed domain of the great and not so good, which sat above the heaving mass of the old town. Close enough for Heights residents to eavesdrop on the real world below, but far enough away for them not to have to care.

A bomber’s moon lit up the night. The sky was clear and pocked with stars.

Sitting behind the steering wheel, David Baron, 62 years old, tall, grey haired and dark eyed, lifted his left hand, pressed the navigation light rocker switch above his head and looked at his wrist watch, a square faced, silver Cartier Santos. 11.58…

On cue, the Lexus was bathed in light from some distance behind. Baron pressed the rocker switch again, leaned back in his seat and waited. A black BMW coupé glided past him, turned into the kerb in front of the Lexus and stopped. The rears lights went out. The driver’s door opened. A man in his late twenties, dressed in a dark blue city coat slid out of the BMW and ambled the few paces back to the Lexus. Baron pressed a button to his right and his window slid down. The man dropped his head, looked into the car and smiled with at least fifty teeth.

“You must be Mr Baron,” he said.

Baron looked at him dead centre. “Mr Earl. On time, that’s good.”

The man’s smile stayed fixed. “Never be late for a first date.”

“We’ll take my car,” Baron said.

Earl straightened up, pointed the key fob in his right hand in the direction of the BMW. The interior light dipped, rose and dipped again. The rear indicators flashed, the car beeped, sighed and all the lights were extinguished. This magic accomplished, Earl moved around the front of the Lexus, opened the passenger door and eased himself into the car. Baron’s eyes followed him the whole way. He waited for Earl to settle.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Absolutely.”

“Then let’s go.”

Less than five minutes later, the Lexus turned into a avenue of designer built houses, all of them set in their own landscaped grounds. Baron slowed the motor and pulled into the pavement outside a faux regency detached house. A substantial lawn in front of it stretched towards the avenue, bordered along the pavement by a wall of creamy Bath stone. There were stone lions on posts each side of the wrought iron gates. No lights in windows on the ground floor, but signs of life from at least one room on the second floor.

“That’s the master bedroom,” Baron said.

Earl looked, took in the scene, saying nothing.

Then his city coat burst into life. The mobile in his inside pocket rang out into the silence. A startled Earl shoved his right hand inside his coat and flailed away at the technology. Baron could not believe what he was witnessing.

“What the hell are doing with that?”

Earl fished the mobile out of his cost and answered the call.

“Yes.”

“Earl…” Baron managed to say.

Long past the moment for excuses, Earl talked into the phone.

“Who?… No… No… You’ve got the wrong… Listen… Well fuck you too.”

He cancelled the call. Baron, way beyond furious, glared at Earl. Found something to say.

“What the hell do you think this is?

Earl said, “Sorry.”

“Sorry? Is that what you’re going to do in there. Apologise? When the phone rings in his bedroom.” He pointed at the mobile. “Give it to me… Come on.”

Earl took a deep breath. Opened his mouth to say something. Baron beat him to it.

“And anything else you’re carrying which can identify you.” He pointed to a huge, ugly Rolex on Earl’s left wrist. “How many people know you wear that?”

“I don’t know. It’s a knock-off anyway”

Baron held out his hand. Earl unclipped the Rolex and handed it to Baron, who went on with all the patience he could muster. “It’s just possible you might get this wrong. And if you end up face down in the axminster, we want the police to spend as long as possible, prodding at your corpse and scratching their heads.” He looked Earl straight in the eyes. “You have to be untraceable.”

“And that’s how it is. I’m Earl. The only one who knows who I really am is me.”

“So to ensure it stays that way, empty your pockets.”

Earl produced a set of keys, some coins and his wallet. Baron didn’t let up. Kept on talking.

“If I could pull your teeth out, I’d do it. No one gets anything wrong while in my care. Not the first time, or the hundred and first. Mr Anonymous is what you have to be. Now and every time you take a contract.” He nodded across the space between them. “Open the glove box.”

Earl did so. Baron leaned across him. Stored the watch, wallet, keys and coins in the glove compartment and straightened up again.

“Now, please take this in the spirit it’s offered. I wish you a long and successful career. I hope you live to a ripe old age and die an extremely wealthy man.”

“Thank you,” Earl said.

“However, my most fervent desire is that after tonight, I never see you again. For this, I will happily trade a double lotto rollover. No offence.”

“Non taken”

Baron summed up.

“I simply don’t like sloppy work.”


Praise from readers

“One Fight at a Time” has an exhilarating pace, at its heart a fascinating puzzle and plenty of twists and turns. Holds attention throughout.

— Andrew Puckett