Tina spun around, her eyes scanning the play area and beyond. She turned to her left and then her right, the sensation of being watched searing through her like a hot poker. The park was busy, but no one seemed to be paying her any attention. She was simply another mum entertaining her child on a warm Sunday afternoon. She physically shrugged in a bid to relieve herself of the hunted feeling, her eyes now seeking out her five-year-old son, Dimitri.
‘Mummy!’ he called, appearing at the top of the climbing frame. Tina waved at him, smiling broadly, revelling in her son’s delight as he whizzed down the slide, landing with a bump in the sand at the end. He scampered up and darted back round to the steps.
Despite this momentary distraction, the feeling of being watched remained with her. She waited for Dimitri to complete a second descent.
‘Come on,’ she said, scooping him up as he landed with a dull thud on the ground again. ‘Time to go.’
As they left the play area, Tina took another glance around. Her heart gave a little skip and she drew breath. The figure of a man caught her attention, but before she could look more closely he had disappeared out of view behind the coffee stand.
She closed her eyes for a moment. It was no good. She had to stop this. She should be used to it by now. It wasn’t him. It couldn’t be Sasha. He wasn’t coming back. Ever. A slither of pain spiked at her heart, not as sharp as it once had been, but still strong enough to make her flinch mentally. Five years as a widow had dulled the intensity, or had she simply got used to living with it? She wasn’t sure and now wasn’t the time to analyse the notion further. It never was. Relegating the thought of her husband to the back of her mind, Tina took Dimitri’s hand and headed over towards the kiosk.
‘Do you want an ice-cream?’ She knew she really didn’t need to ask, but it was lovely to see the excited, gleeful expression on her son’s face at the prospect of the treat.
‘Ice-cream! Ice-cream!’ sang Dimitri as he danced along beside her.
Standing in the queue, Tina realised she was doing it again; checking for anyone who might be watching her. As she looked beyond the kiosk her heart threw in an extra beat. There, hurrying away in the distance, was the man who had caught her attention earlier. The logical side of her brain challenged what was rapidly becoming her irrational part. It couldn’t be Sasha. He was dead. Killed in a car accident. Her mind was playing cruel tricks on her. Was it any wonder, though, she thought as the figure continued its hurried departure? He looked the same height and build as Sasha, even had the same gait, his long stride covering the ground with ease.
The tugging of her arm caused her to look away as Dimitri pointed animatedly at the ice-cream he wanted.
‘This one, with sprinkles and chocolate sauce,’ he beamed, tapping the picture.
‘Okay, sprinkles and chocolate sauce it is,’ replied Tina, returning the smile.
When she looked back across the park, the man had gone. However, the sadness in her heart was not so eager to leave.
The call he had been waiting for came in. It lasted two seconds. The words ‘We’re on’ were the only ones necessary. DS John Nightingale dropped the phone back in its cradle, simultaneously standing up. Seven pairs of eyes focused on him.
‘Here we go, lads,’ he said, the calm air in his voice belying the adrenalin rush that kicked at his heart rate. ‘And lasses,’ he added noting the raised eyebrows of his female colleague, Jackie.
John hiked his gun harness onto his shoulders, clipping it in place. He gave the Glock 26 snuggled in the holster a reassuring pat. An action born of habit; a subconscious reassurance.
There was a scuffling of chairs and flurry of action as the specialist organised crime- fighting unit scrambled. Primed, eager and hyped for what could be a particularly nasty encounter with the gang of armed robbers they had been tracking for the past six months.
The black BMW and 4x4 Range Rover sped swiftly through the dusk of the London streets, leaving a deserted headquarters behind them. They wove their way through the rear lights of the bedraggled tail end of rush-hour traffic, homing in on their target with stealth- like silence. No roaring engines, no flashing blue lights, no sirens. Purely an assured confidence in their training, experience and trust of each other.
John had been handpicked to head up this elite unit that operated loosely within the boundaries of London City’s Met. They had been working together as a team for six years now. Faces rarely changed. Once you were in, you stayed in. They likened themselves to a marriage, the unofficial motto between them of ‘Until death us do part.’ And in two cases, it had. John pushed the black-dog memory of Neil Edwards’ death away. Another reaction that had become a habit. He needed to stay focused on the task in hand. He wasn’t going to lose another member of his team.