Chapter One


Something was happening with the fare he’d just dropped off. He had watched her wander into the small park and sit forlornly on a bench before he’d edged his vehicle up the road to wait for his next job to come through. She had refused to be taken all the way to her house, despite his insistence. You could only insist so much with these people; he didn’t know them. Hers was a daft decision for several reasons, but daft decisions came thicker and faster as the night wore on and the booze went down. It was gone midnight now, officially Christmas Day. Too late to be sitting alone in deserted parks, even in well-to-do neighbourhoods, and bloody cold with it. Yesterday’s snowfall was now crusty hard.

The two youths had passed his car in silence, save for their crunching footfalls. Dark-clothed and hooded, they were the kind of people he denied entry to his car even if they had a legitimate booking. It was fashion profiling, but it had kept him largely unscathed over his five years in the job. He had no clue if they were local rich kids dressing gangsta or the real thing. And had they carried on walking, he wouldn’t have cared either way.

In his rear-view mirror, he’d watched as they appeared on the screen of his back window, moving further away from his car. Walk on, just walk on…

But they had abruptly halted and looked to their right, and he knew what they’d seen. Slowly, they had moved off the pavement into the park and disappeared from sight.

‘Seriously, lads, it’s Christmas. Give me a break…’

Driving away was not on option. Matt Spiller was the sort who could beat himself up at the best of times and for no good reason, so potentially abandoning a damsel in distress would have plagued him.

He shifted the Audi’s auto gearbox into reverse and allowed the car to creep backwards, its quad exhausts burbling gently, clouding the frigid night air. Drawing adjacent to the park entrance, he stopped and watched as the lads approached her. Her gaze, previously down at the snow around her stilettoed feet, now belatedly lifted. He couldn’t make out her expression, but her unaltered body language betrayed an indifference he found puzzling.

The lads briefly swivelled to look at him, suddenly becoming aware of the grumbling noise behind them. Spiller shifted the lever into neutral and hit the pedal a couple of times, hoping the roar from the big engine might scare them off. It didn’t. They turned their attention back to the woman.


Spiller pulled his red hat down low above his eyes and adjusted his beard. He reached under his seat, grabbed his tools, and switched off the ignition. Outside the car, he secreted a tool up each sleeve so they rested just inside the cuff of his white gloves, keeping them out of sight.

He trudged into the park to confront them. Hearing him approach, the youths turned around.

‘Lads, you all right there?’ He stopped a relatively safe twenty paces away.

‘Fuck, it’s Father Christmas,’ one of them said, laughing, and they both moved to flank the woman on the bench, like menacing book-ends.

‘In the flesh,’ Spiller replied through the mouth-gap in his white beard.

‘You got our presents, wanker?’ said the other one, and sniggered crazily.

Spiller suspected the influence of drugs, and he could tell from their accents they weren’t denizens of the posh part of town. He shook his head. ‘Nope, you’re on the naughty list. Do you want to leave the nice lady alone so I can get on with my deliveries?’

‘Fuck off. You might not have shit for us, but we got loads in our sacks for this bitch.’

The lads cackled crazily, but the woman still appeared strangely unfazed by it all, randomly glancing between the three men.

Spiller groaned. ‘Come on, boys, it’s Christmas, the season of goodwill and all that happy shit. Just go home.’

‘You go home—none of your fucking business.’

It was only going one way. Spiller knew that. They weren’t put off by him. He was a little taller than them, and it was easy to see under his red smock that he was physically built, but those were not the attributes that habitually dissuaded people. Ever since childhood, Spiller had possessed a haunted look that could make the handiest of opponents think twice. He just looked… dangerous; deranged even. It was made worse by exhaustion and low moods—both of which were factored in tonight—but, even on a relaxed and balmy summer afternoon, there weren’t many who would look Matt Spiller in his deep-set, dark-ringed eyes and think it the best option to rile him.

He approached ten slow paces.

The lads reacted. They reached inside their jackets, one producing a meat cleaver, the other a bowie knife. They let their weapons speak for them.

Spiller stood his ground, adrenaline pumping now and making him shake. He laced his gloved fingers in front of his abdomen, making access easier. ‘Miss, I’m going to need you to cover your eyes for this. I don’t want you to see what’s about to happen. You won’t like it.’

She spoke for the first time, and sounded slightly peeved. ‘Really?’

‘Yes, close your eyes now and keep them shut until I say otherwise.’

‘Tosser thinks he’s Jack Reacher,’ said the youth with the bowie knife. ‘What you gonna do?’

The woman obliged, closing her eyes, just as the lads made their move, which Spiller immediately interrupted. His fingers simultaneously flicked back the cuffs of both gloves and dropped the tools into his hands. He raised his left hand and hit the rear of the tactical torch, blinding them with its strobing white light. They yelped like they’d been thumped, and squeezed their eyes tight shut as Spiller moved in, flicking his right wrist to extend the telescopic spring billy. He swiped forehand at one hooded head, then backhand at the second, and continued until both youths fell to the snow, one completely out, the other moaning. He cut the strobing. Another quick swipe and the moaning stopped.

The woman opened her eyes and pointed to the tac-light. ‘Can I get one of those? I’ve been a very good girl.’

‘Please go and sit in my car.’

She shrugged, stood up, and tottered on her high heels uneasily through the frozen snow towards the pavement.