Matt Hilton: Blood and Ashes

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Matt Hilton Blood and Ashes
  • Название:
    Blood and Ashes
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  • Жанр:
    Триллер / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Blood and Ashes: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Matt Hilton


Blood and Ashes

Prologue

Brook Reynolds woke up screaming without knowing why. The last few minutes were a blur; she could recall thinking of her children but why would that make her scream? She only knew that it was the right thing to do.

Then, with a jolt, it all came back: how everything had changed so horribly in a matter of minutes.

She remembered the car behind hers, barely a distraction at first. Her thoughts were fully on her husband and children. Brook smiled as she pictured their faces. Soon she’d be home and there’d be hugs all round. She’d missed them all while away on business.

The mountain roads were familiar, if twisting, and her mind was preoccupied with the impending happy reunion, so the following vehicle didn’t register with her too much. Not until it moved in close and her rear-view mirror reflected the harshness of its lights. Her pulse fluttered in her throat and her eyes stung at the glare.

‘What in God’s name are you playing at?’

The vehicle was a silhouette beyond the stark beam, and it loomed massively in her mirrors. Brook couldn’t see the occupants, but they must be reckless idiots. Didn’t they know the road took a series of sharp turns just ahead? As a gentle reminder she touched the brake pedal, hoping they’d back off. She watched the vehicle dwindle, but had to tug her eyes from the mirror when its lights were flicked up to full beam.

‘Asshole!’

She didn’t want to get into a sparring match, but she had to warn this lunatic to back off. Again she toed the brake, and her lamps turned the night red. The following vehicle speeded up, and the interior of her car was invaded by its lights. Its horn screeched.

‘What the hell are you doing?’ She shouted this time, touching the gas pedal to avoid a collision. She pushed the car into the first bend, snatching her attention from the curve ahead to the blazing lights behind, back to the road again. Then, coming out of the curve, she put her foot down. Unperturbed, the car shot by her, spitting up grit from the side of the road. Brook avoided looking at the driver: probably some crazy redneck high on something. This was the last thing she wanted. All she needed to do was get home.

The car roared on and into the next bend.

Thank God, it kept on going.

Brook didn’t slow. She kept her foot steady on the gas.

Coming round the tight bend she saw the dark form of the other car in her path. It was parked across the narrow road, lights extinguished, someone standing by its rear. The figure stepped forward, raised his hand. Oh, my God! Was that a gun? Something flashed. She let out a cry of disbelief, yanking hard on the steering wheel. It was reflex, or panic, perhaps both.

The tyres bit into the soft verge at the edge of the road, then there was nothing beneath them and the car began to roll. The forest opened its arms to greet her. The next instant was filled with showering sparks and raining glass, the shriek of tortured metal and numbing collisions as her head was repeatedly slammed and jostled. Her mind was full of darkness.

And that’s when Brook had come to, screaming.

Her body felt immensely heavy, and the pressure behind her eyes was overwhelming. She didn’t understand that she was hanging upside down, or that the pain across her throat was the seat belt cinched garrotte-tight.

She wanted nothing more than to be home. She had no time for this!

There was a stench in her nostrils and her face and hair were slick with fluid. The liquid wasn’t blood; it was more acidic than that. Like chemicals.

She stopped screaming to spit out the vile stuff, and turned her eyes to seek out the source of a new sound invading her mind. Voices, talking excitedly as they approached.

‘Help me,’ she croaked.

‘Is she dead?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Help me,’ she said again more loudly. And she suddenly understood what she was soaked with. ‘I’m covered in gasoline. Please… somebody help me.’

‘She’s still alive,’ the first voice said.

‘Yeah,’ said the other. ‘We need to do something quick.’

Thank God, she thought, I’m going to see my children again.

Then the first one said, ‘Yeah. Take these matches. You’d better finish her off.’

Chapter 1

The clouds failed to conceal the moon. It scowled like a drunkard’s bloodshot eye over the rim of an empty glass. The disc was low on the horizon, bloated and red, and I couldn’t help aiming a derisive snort its way. A hunter’s moon: how ironic was that?

Walking slowly, my hands stuffed in my coat pockets, I felt the same breeze that made ribbons of the clouds tug at my clothing. In a baseball cap, scuffed leather coat and denims, I wandered up the centre of the main street of Bedford Well, with no care for traffic. It was after three in the morning and the only things moving were the cats with which I shared the night.

There was no one around. I hadn’t seen another soul since arriving in town and parking my Audi in the darkened lot of a Seven-Eleven. That suited me. I’d rather be here and gone before causing a blip on anyone’s radar. Should any insomniac glance out of a window I’d appear unremarkable, just another guy down on his luck with no real destination in mind, passing through on his way to an undetermined destiny. That suited me as well.

Three nights ago I’d been on the Florida Gulf Coast and it had been warm enough for shorts and a bare chest as I’d reclined on the deck that overlooked the beach. Now the leather jacket was necessary for more than concealing the gun in my belt. The wind sweeping down off the Pennsylvanian hills held a lingering nip of winter and that didn’t suit me at all.

My limp wasn’t very pronounced, not after three months of hard exercise to get back up to speed, but the cold reminded me that not too long ago I’d been both shot and stabbed in the right leg. The pain was just a dull ache and I pushed it to the back of my mind. Pain is an ally; it confirms that you’re still alive. I’d been fed bucket-loads of similar psychobabble when in the military; some of it helpful, most of it horseshit. Mostly pain hurts and it slows you down. How could that be a soldier’s friend? Made me wonder if maybe I wasn’t fit for this line of work any more, and that the accumulation of injuries picked up throughout the years was conspiring against me. Or, like my best friend Rink often joked, age was beginning to catch up with me.

Maybe there was something in that, but I wasn’t ready for the scrap heap just yet.

The limp did serve some purpose. It added to the disguise I’d affected. Studying this stubble-chinned man, holding himself tightly against the chill, looking thoroughly miserable, who’d ever guess I was here for a deadly purpose?

On the drive up I’d questioned my motives for coming to this dead-end town and more than once had almost turned the car round and headed south again. It’s a weakness, but I can’t say no. I should’ve told Don Griffiths to take a hike, concentrated on getting healthy again in the sub-tropical sun. But here I was. Apparently it’s true: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’ve never learned to roll on my back and wasn’t about to now.

The main street of Bedford Well wasn’t much more than a hundred yards of family-run stores and amenities, all shut up tight for the night. At its northern end it opened into a circle of dwellings around a central green, complete with a wishing well that explained the town’s name. The well had a bucket, but no one would be able to draw water from it because a metal grille had been bolted over the top. A huge brass padlock fastened the grille to the stonework, but it was shiny and proclaimed that the well was regularly emptied of coins. The town council, it seemed, had claim on the nickels and dimes as well as people’s aspirations.

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