Cold Revenge

Alex Howard

 

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                                  CHAPTER ONE

 

 

In her student bedsit, Hannah opened her eyes and allowed

the fantasy to gently drift away as recommended by Catching

Your Dreams (And Making Them Come True), the self-help

guide she was studying.

According to the book, visualization was the first step to

actualization. There was no point in wanting to be a famous

journalist, as Hannah did, until you felt you were a famous

journalist, at least in your own head. If you don’t believe in

you, how can anyone else? That was the message of the chapter

she was reading.

In the private theatre of her mind, with herself as appreciative

audience, Hannah had just graciously received a BAFTA for

journalism. She held the award aloft and waved to her adoring

public. Soon she’d have her own TV series. She’d get to meet

celebrities, no, she’d be a celebrity. She’d, well, the possibilities

were practically endless. She now allowed the dream to disperse.

Reality took hold.

She sighed, stretched and shifted her weight on her narrow,

cramped bed in the small, dilapidated room off Gower Street

in Bloomsbury, central London, that was her temporary home.

The walls were marked by small circles where a succession of

students had Blu-tacked posters of their idols. Their ghostly

residue defied repainting.

Traffic rumbled by outside. She looked at her Facebook page

open on her laptop. On her wall she had written, Am seeing sexy

married man tonight ;) and added, after a moment’s thought,

But that’s not all ;D have decided to explore my inner chick

feelings with some girl on girl (well, this girl on one married

lady, why do these people bother to get hitched!) action! Will

let you know how it’s going later ;) Don’t forget to check my

blog! :D.

That’ll get tongues wagging, she thought. More to the point,

that’ll get people reading. Sex sells, or so they say. No point

writing without an audience. That’d be the sound of one hand

clapping.

She was pleased with the Zen allusion. It was classy.

She repeated to herself, ‘I am classy, I am a success,’ three

times, aloud. It was important to raise your self-esteem, the

book said.

She closed her eyes for a minute and settled down to allow

herself another brief, momentary fantasy of fame.

Her phone beeped and she checked it. One of her two lovers

was on their way round. Hannah felt a surge of sexual anticipation

coupled with professional, journalistic excitement. She

had spent hours tracking people down to check a theory she

had about the relationship of one of her lovers with Dr Fuller;

tonight she would have it confirmed.

Hannah was no fool. She knew wishful thinking alone, no

matter how directed, would not get her a job on The Huffington

Post or the Sunday Times or the BBC. Exposing a famous (well,

semi-well-known) academic as a serious philanderer, abusing his

position of trust as well as potentially killing one of his lovers,

and writing about her investigative work online, now that just

might. At least it was a start. And Hannah was prepared to do

whatever it took to realize her ambitions. Whatever it took.

She typed her revelation about her lover into her blog. It

had a disappointingly low number of readers at the moment,

but that would soon change. Very few people had heard of

her, but lots of people knew Dr Fuller. Soon they’d all have to

log in to get the lurid details. Later she’d think of a suitable

headline.

She heard the entry-phone buzzer. Her partner had arrived.

She pressed the button to open the door downstairs, opened

her own door a crack and then lay face down submissively on

her bed, as she’d been instructed to do.

‘Don’t look at me tonight,’ he’d ordered.

Hannah slipped the black velvet hood over her head. Her

lover liked her blindfolded, passive and quiescent.

She heard footsteps in her room and the door closed. All

her senses were heightened now in the velvet darkness of the

hood. Sound was magnified. Sensations were amplified. The

click of the door as it shut had an ominous finality.

She could hear his breathing, the traffic noise in the street

outside, someone’s TV down the hall. She heard the faint

noise of an iPod being attached to her docking station and

old-fashioned dance music filled the room. Hannah’s pulse

quickened

when she felt the mattress on the bed move as her

lover sat beside her and started stroking her head through the

material of the hood.

She felt her skirt being pulled up and then she heard her

lover say softly, ‘I thought I told you. White underwear, not

black.’ There was a pause and then he murmured, ‘Now I’ll

have to punish you.’

‘I’m sorry, Teacher!’ she said. Her lover insisted on her

using the title. Not to do so was to be punished. At the start of

their relationship he’d made her write a contract out, detailing

her slave duties. Everything they did together was rigorously,

relentlessly planned and choreographed. There was a script

written by her lover that she had to follow. Nothing was left

to chance. Everything was controlled, even down to the music

playing in the background.

Especially down to the music in the background. He was

insistent upon it. Always dance music. She guessed that it

meant more to him than simply a soundtrack or just something

to drown out the noise of their lovemaking. The intensity of

his expression was sometimes frightening.

‘Sorry doesn’t cut it,’ the voice said.

‘I’ll do anything you say,’ she said, her voice muffled by the

material of the hood.

‘Yes, you will, won’t you,’ said the voice, calm and in control.

Always in control. ‘Arms behind your back.’

She did as she was told. Now her wrists were secured

behind her back with handcuffs, depriving her of the use of

her arms. She felt her underwear being pulled down and then

a searing pain across her buttocks as the riding crop swished

down. She bit her lip in pleasure at the stinging sensation.

Her laptop pinged as someone emailed her; she felt a twinge

of irritation that she’d forgotten to log off. Bloody thing.

She felt the weight of the other leaning across her body

momentarily. Was he reading the blog? Surely it had moved

to screen save?

She felt the familiar, strong fingers close round her throat.

She arced her neck upwards submissively to allow him a better

grip, the index finger against her jawbone. She felt the pressure

closing, tightening, then her airways constricting as she heard

the voice whispering, ‘Who’s been a naughty girl then?’

The artist changed on the iPod and the music shifted up a

gear. A voice from way back when, a voice from long before

she was born, Donna Summer’s voice, ethereal and urgent,

saying how she felt love, over and over again, floating above

the robotic, synthesized drums.

The fingers closed round her again, but it was not like it

had been before, not gentle, not fun at all, and she bucked

beneath the other body, now pressing down on top of hers so

she couldn’t move, in genuine alarm but to no avail.

They had a code word to use to stop any activity, but she

couldn’t speak.

This wasn’t part of the script.

This wasn’t how it should be.

Now her alarm changed to fear, and as the pressure continued,

naked terror.

Please God, she prayed, make this stop! She could hear the

song in her ears about how it felt good, so good, so good, but

it didn’t feel good. Not good at all.

She was choking. She couldn’t breathe. It was like a nightmare

and fear changed to terror. Now she could hear the blood

hammering in her ears, as insistent as the music, and wild

patches of iridescent colour seemed to explode in the darkness

behind the mask. The music swelled to a crescendo and still

the iron grip tightened.

Above her, straddling her body that was trying so hard

and so ineffectually to buck him off, he hummed along to the

music, his head nodding in time with the beat while his grip

never slackened.

Gradually he felt her movements slowing and ceasing, and

her body relaxed as her life departed.

Her killer rolled off her body and stood momentarily looking

down at Hannah with genuine regret, then leaned forward and

with gloved fingers delicately deleted the last section of the blog.

 

 

 

 

                                            CHAPTER TWO

 

 

At the central ring in the large, vaulted space of Bob’s Gym

in Bermondsey the fighters were training in the background;

around them, almost centre stage, the multilayered noise of a

boxing gym.

The decibel levels were high. There was the thud of gloves on

the heavy bags, on bodies and on pads, the grunts of explosive

effort as the punches were launched, the swishing of skipping

ropes, the tacketa-tacketa-tacketa noise of the speed bags, the

squeak of training shoes on polished wood and the shouts of

instruction or encouragement.

Freddie Laidlaw, the owner and trainer at Bob’s Gym, looked

at Hanlon speculatively. His eyes ran over her as she stood

before him. He was looking for weakness. He could see none.

Hanlon’s gaze was as steady and imperious as ever.

The last time he’d seen her was when he’d visited her once

briefly in hospital, hiding behind the expensive bunch of flowers

he had brought with him like a shield.

Hanlon had been in bed, her head and arm bandaged, the

springs of her thick dark hair emphasizing the pallor of her

skin. His heart had felt heavy at the sight of her vulnerability.

Then with her eyes still closed, she’d said, ‘Put the flowers

on the table, Freddie.’

‘How did you know it was me?’

She opened her grey eyes and looked at him sardonically.

‘White lilies are for funerals, Freddie,’ she said. ‘I could smell

them coming down the corridor.’

‘Oh,’ he said lamely.

‘I’m not dead yet, Freddie, but when I am, I’ll be sure to

let you know.’

He smiled at her. ‘You do that, Hanlon.’

She propped herself up on one elbow. It hurt, but she took

care not to let the pain show; she even refused her eyes permission

to narrow.

‘I’m a hard woman to kill,’ she told him.

That evening was Hanlon’s first time back in the gym since

her fight with Conquest on the island. Laidlaw had watched

her earlier, jumping rope with effortless ease. As she skipped,

following up with basic jumps, shuffles and side swings, Hanlon

was graceful and fluid in motion, her body concealed by a

baggy old tracksuit. Laidlaw noticed several of the other boxers

stealing surreptitious glances at her movements. She was the

only female boxer in the gym. Hanlon usually worked out

and sparred with the handful of professionals and semi-pros

who trained at the gym on the evenings when it was closed to

amateurs. This was the first time most of them had ever seen her.

Aware of the attention and just for the hell of it, she finished

off her half-hour workout with some showy rope tricks, crossovers,

double-unders and double cross-overs, the rope a blur

of movement, haloing her slim body. She moved so fast the

rope audibly swished through the air and cracked whip-like

against the floor.

Beat that, she thought triumphantly.

Laidlaw went over to her, noticing the faint sheen of sweat

shining on her skin. She pushed her unruly hair back from her

forehead. Laidlaw saw faint lines that he was sure hadn’t existed

before her struggle to the death with Conquest. He guessed it

had cost her more than she would ever admit.

‘Ready?’ he asked. She nodded and held her hands out,

fingers splayed. With speed born of decades of practice, Laidlaw

taped her long, strong fingers. She flexed them, nodded in

satisfaction and Laidlaw slipped on her boxing gloves.

He had agreed with Hanlon on just one three-minute sparring

round with one of the other boxers. Laidlaw had chosen

Jay. He was a good, promising middleweight. At eleven and a

half stone he was a stone and a half heavier than she was, so

a challenge but not a mismatch.

Hanlon hadn’t been in the ring for nearly two months. She

was keen to check her fitness levels and the extent to which

her arm had recovered. Laidlaw knew too that she would be

desperate to release some of the aggression that had built up

inside her. Hanlon was one of those boxers who need to release

their aggression and she knew it. It was one of the reasons why

she did triathlons. She wasn’t competing just against a clock;

she wanted to smash her rivals.

Eight weeks of inaction were bottled up inside her.

The trainer got into the ring after her and motioned to Jay,

who followed suit. His black skin looked as though it had been

carefully painted over an anatomically perfect body.

Laidlaw waved them together to the centre of the ring. Jay

had a broad sceptical grin on his face. For a start, as well as being

a woman, Hanlon was almost twice his age, though little was

visible of her beneath her headguard and baggy tracksuit. They

tapped gloves. Jay’s smile froze and vanished as he saw Hanlon’s

eyes, hard and watchful. Until now he’d thought the whole thing

might be some practical joke. He’d made a mental note not to

hit her too hard, to go easy on her. Not now. Not after that

look. The two of them circled each other and then Jay moved in.

Three minutes sounds like no time at all, the length of

a song on the radio or the time it takes to clean your teeth.

Three minutes.

Now, consider this.

Try leaning against someone the same weight as you. Put

your head on the other person’s shoulder, neck bent so the top

of your head is pressing just above their collarbone and you’re

staring at the floor. Let them do the same. Interlink the fingers

of each hand with your partner’s and take it in turns to push.

When the other person pushes forward with their arms, resist

as hard as you can, with all your strength. Then it’s your turn

to push, theirs to resist. Like pistons working against a heavy

mass. Use your legs as well to drive yourself forward, as does

your opponent. Do this for three minutes without a break, as

hard and as fast as you can, without a pause to draw breath.

That’s one round.

That gives some idea of the physical effort inside the ring.

Now, imagine too, the other person is trying to hit you in the

face and body as hard as they possibly can, as viciously as they

can, and they are strong and quick and practised.

All there is, is the ring. That is the world.

You can’t turn away, there’s nowhere to hide; you just have

to face them until the round is over. Your eyes fill with sweat,

occasionally tears, sometimes blood. You can’t hear anything

except your own laboured breathing, sometimes not even the

bell.

All there is, is the ring. All there is, is the pain. All there

is, is the effort.

You’re unaware of the crowd, unaware of your surroundings.

It’s just you and your opponent and those gloves coming at you.

And there’s no respite, no let-up, no remorse.

THanlon loved boxing. She was made for it. Being back in

the ring just felt so good, like slipping into the sea when she

 

Her reflexes were as sharp as ever. She let Jay do the work,

jerking her head out of the way of his fast jab, which was

accurate

but not quick enough to catch her. He favoured a

sharp right-cross and Hanlon let him do the work, using her

fast footwork

and ring-craft to circle him. Occasionally she

flicked out a lightning-fast left of her own. Jay hadn’t expected

this vicious jab and the first one caught him under his right

eye, which within seconds had started to swell. Not only did

he begin losing all-round vision, but it affected his calculation

of distance.

He shook his head in baffled surprise. I’m losing, he thought

incredulously.

He dropped his guard slightly and that was enough for

Hanlon. Another punch rode over the protective gloves in

front of Jay’s face, catching him off balance, and then as his

feet moved awkwardly to restore his equilibrium, Hanlon was

on him, sending what would have been rib-breaking body

shots into his lower body, if she hadn’t pulled the power of

the punches.

‘Break,’ said Laidlaw, moving between them, pushing them

aside with his hands. He covered his mouth to hide his grin of

delight. The old Hanlon was back. Lean and mean, he thought,

lean and mean.

Hanlon moved over to a corner and rested against the ropes.

She listened critically to her body. She was pleased, her breathing

was perfect, her legs felt like steel. Jay came over pulling his

headguard off. He came up to her and they sportingly touched

gloves. She could smell his short, cropped hair and youthful

perspiration. He grinned at her, taking his mouthguard out

as he did so, his teeth startlingly white against his black face.

Hanlon thought, he’s ridiculously good-looking.

‘Respect,’ he said. Hanlon smiled at him. Good boxers are,

paradoxically, usually gentlemen. Jay nodded and rejoined his

companions.

Hanlon took her gum shield out and rinsed and spat into

the bucket that Laidlaw was holding. The water was tinged

pink with her blood where one of Jay’s head shots had damaged

her mouth. Perspiration soaked through the faded grey fabric

of her baggy, sleeveless top and Laidlaw could smell a hint of

scent through her sweat.

‘Are you wearing perfume?’ he asked. He’d never known

her do that. Hanlon’s unfriendly gaze met his.

‘I was seeing someone I know earlier,’ she said. ‘A friend.’

Her expression dared him to ask another question. Laidlaw

had plenty of experience of reading hostility in faces and body

posture; he wasn’t going to make that mistake. He knew the

high price she put on her privacy.

He watched Hanlon’s back, her head held high, as she walked

back across the gym. Several of the other fighters touched her

shoulder gently as she passed. Laidlaw shook his head with

rueful affection and sighed. She was back.

As she left, a figure in the shadows of the viewing gallery

above the ring, who had been watching the fight unobserved

from the darkness under the roof eaves, quietly got to his feet

and slipped away towards the exit.

Hanlon showered in Laidlaw’s personal bathroom and pulled

her clothes on. She felt elated. She had won; he had lost. The

best of feelings.

She winced as she dressed. She studied her half-naked body

in the mirror and could see the skin around her ribs changing

colour, darkening, as she began to bruise. Her left eye, too,

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12 13

was puffy and swollen where Jay had caught it with a punch

she couldn’t avoid. By the morning it would be black.

Later that night she knew she’d be in considerable discomfort

from the beating her body had taken from Jay’s gloves, but

Hanlon didn’t mind that kind of pain. It was there because of

what she’d achieved. No pain, no gain. If there’s no charge,

it’s not worth attending the show.

She was pleased overall with her performance. It was the first

time she had been in a fight since her struggle with Conquest

on the island, which was a couple of months ago. Her arm had

healed perfectly and her fitness levels were better than ever.

She walked out of the fire door at the rear of the building,

sure-footed and silent on the metal steps of the fire escape. Her

sports bag in her left hand was partially unzipped and jutting

out from it was the handle of a standard-issue police telescopic

baton. Hanlon had made a fair number of enemies in her time

and she suspected one of them would come looking for her

some day. She also didn’t trust the dark streets of Bermondsey

at the best of times, no matter how up-and-coming its image.

Either way, she was ready.

As she exited the narrow alleyway into the dark, dimly lit

street she saw a tall figure step out of the gloom.

With one fluid movement, she drew the carbon-steel baton

as a familiar voice said,‘It’s me, DI Hanlon. You can put the

baton away now, unless you want to be arrested for assaulting

a senior officer.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Hanlon. Her hand moved away from the

comforting metal handle.‘How can I help you?’ she asked.

‘You can join me for dinner, Detective Inspector,’ said the

assistant commissioner, stepping into the soft halo of a street

light. ‘I’ve got a job offer for you.’

CHAPTER THREE

Hanlon and Corrigan sat together at a small table at the rear

of the Sultan Ahmet restaurant near the brutalist sprawl of the

South Bank complex, home of Lasdun’s hymn to concrete, the

National Theatre and the Hayward Gallery by the Thames,

just across the river from Westminster.

The restaurant was owned by relatives of Hanlon’s former

partner in the Met, Enver Demirel. His aunt, Demet, ran the

place. Hanlon could see her, standing behind the bar, organizing

everything with tight-lipped efficiency. Short, beaky-nosed, and

whippet thin with a shock of dyed brown hair, she looked like

a small, angry bird. Enver, and the other relatives of his who

Hanlon had met, were all placid by temperament and goodnatured.

Neither adjective applied to Aunt Demet.

She watched the waiters moving with professional grace, and

as they exited and entered the kitchen she caught glimpses of

the chefs toiling away. She reflected how much Enver had hated

the catering world, how he had once told her that boxing and

the police force were relatively stress free compared to working

for the family-run restaurant business that the Demirels had.

Mind you, she thought, I got Enver shot and nearly killed, a

charge that couldn’t be levelled at his family.

Corrigan’s six foot five frame was uncomfortably wedged

between banquette seat and table. His huge hands made the

CREVE

 

 

 

In her student bedsit, Hannah opened her eyes and allowed the fantasy to gently drift away as recommended by “ Catching Your Dreams ( And Making Them Come True ) ”  the  self-help guide she was studying.

 

According to the book, visualisation was the first step to actualisation. There was no point in wanting to be a famous journalist, as Hannah did, until you were a famous journalist, at least in your own head. If you don’t believe in you, how can anyone else ? That was the message of the chapter she was reading.

 

In the private theatre of her mind, with herself as appreciative audience, Hannah had just graciously received a BAFTA for journalism. She held the award aloft and waved to her adoring public. Soon she’d have her own tv series. She’d get to meet celebrities, no, she’d be a celebrity. She’d, well, the possibilities were practically endless. She now allowed the dream to disperse. Reality took hold.

 

She sighed, stretched and shifted her weight on her narrow, cramped bed in the small, dilapidated room off Gower Street in Bloomsbury, central London that was her temporary home. The walls were marked by small circles where a succession of students had blu-tacked posters of their idols. Their ghostly residue defied repainting.

 

Traffic rumbled by outside. She looked at her Facebook page open on her laptop. On her wall she had written, ‘Am seeing sexy married man tonight  ;)’ and added, after a moment’s thought, ‘But that’s not all  ;D  have decided to explore my inner chick feelings with some girl on girl (well, this girl on one married lady, why do these people bother to get hitched ! ) action! Will let you know how it's going later  ;)  Don’t forget to check my blog!  :D ”

That’ll get tongues wagging, she thought. More to the point, that’ll get people reading. Sex sells, or so they say. No point writing without an audience. That’d be the sound of one hand clapping.

 

She was pleased with the Zen allusion. It was classy.

 

She repeated to herself, ‘I am classy, I am a success’ three times, aloud. It was important to raise your self-esteem, the book said.

She closed her eyes momentarily and settled down to allow herself another brief, momentary fantasy of fame.

 

Her phone beeped and she checked it. One of her two lovers was on their way round. Hannah felt a surge of sexual anticipation coupled with professional, journalistic excitement. She had spent hours tracking people down to check a theory she had about the relationship of one of her lovers with Dr Fuller, tonight she would have it confirmed.

 

Hannah was no fool. She knew wishful thinking alone, no matter how directed, would not get her a job on The Huffington Post or the Sunday Times or the BBC. Exposing a famous ( well, semi well-known ) academic as a serious philanderer, abusing his position of trust as well as potentially killing one of his lovers, and writing about her investigative work on-line, now that just might. At least it was a start. And Hannah was prepared to do whatever it took to realise her ambitions. Whatever it took.

 

She typed her revelation about her lover into her blog. It had a disappointingly low number of  readers at the moment, but that would soon change. Very few people had heard of her, but lots of people knew Dr Fuller. Soon they’d all have to log in to get the lurid details.  Later she’d think of a suitable headline.

 

She heard the entry-phone buzzer. Her partner had arrived. She pressed the button to open the door downstairs, opened her own door a crack and then lay face down submissively on her bed, as she’d been instructed to do.

 

‘Don’t look at me tonight,’ he’d ordered.

 

Hannah slipped the black, velvet hood over her head. Her lover liked her blind-folded, passive and quiescent.

 

She heard footsteps in her room and the door closed. All her senses were heightened now in the velvet darkness of the hood. Sound was magnified. Sensations were amplified. The click of the door as it shut had an ominous finality.

 

She could hear his breathing, the traffic noise in the street outside, someone’s t.v down the hall. She heard the faint noise of an iPod being attached to her docking station and old-fashioned dance music filled the room. Hannah’s pulse quickened as she felt the mattress on the bed move as her lover sat beside her and started stroking her head through the material of the hood. She felt her skirt being pulled up and then she heard her lover say softly,

“ I thought I told you. White underwear, not black. ” There was a pause and then he said softly, “ Now I’ll have to punish you. ”

 

“ I’m sorry, Teacher ! ” she said. Her lover insisted on her using the title. Not to do so was to be punished. At the start of their relationship he’d made her write a contract out, detailing her slave duties. Everything they did together was rigorously, relentlessly planned and choreographed. There was a script written by her lover that she had to follow. Nothing was left to chance. Everything was controlled, even down to the music playing in the background.

 

Especially down to the music in the background. He was insistent upon it. Always dance music. She guessed that it meant more to him than simply a soundtrack or just something to drown out the noise of their lovemaking. The intensity of his expression was sometimes frightening.

 

“ Sorry doesn’t cut it, ” the voice said.

 

“ I’ll do anything you say,” she said, her voice muffled by the material of the hood.

 

“ Yes, you will, won’t you, ” said the voice, calm and in control. Always in control.   “ Arms behind your back. ”

 

She did as she was told. Now her wrists were secured behind her back with handcuffs, depriving her of the use of her arms. She felt her underwear being pulled down and then a searing pain across her buttocks as the riding-crop swished down. She bit her lip in pleasure at the stinging sensation. Her lap-top pinged as someone e-mailed her, she felt a twinge of irritation that she’d forgotten to log off. Bloody thing.

She felt the weight of the other leaning across her body momentarily. Was he reading the blog ? Surely it had moved to screen save ?

She felt the familiar, strong fingers close around her throat. She arced her neck upwards submissively to allow him a better grip, the index finger against her jawbone. She felt the pressure closing, tightening, then her airways constricting as she heard the voice whispering, “ Who’s been a naughty girl then ? ”

 

The artist changed on the iPod and the music shifted up a gear. A voice from way back when, a voice from long before she was born, Donna Summer’s voice, ethereal and urgent, saying how she felt love, over and over again, floating above the robotic, synthesised drums.  

The fingers closed around her again, but it was not like it had been before, not gentle, not fun at all and she bucked beneath the other body, now pressing down on top of hers so she couldn’t move, in genuine alarm but to no avail.

 

They had a code word to use to stop any activity but she couldn’t speak.

 

This wasn’t part of the script.

 

This wasn’t how it should be.

 

Now her alarm changed to fear, and as the pressure continued, naked terror.

 

Please God, she prayed, make this stop !  She could hear the song in her ears about how it felt good, so good, so good but it didn’t feel good. Not good at all.

 

She was choking. She couldn’t breathe. It was like a nightmare and fear changed to terror.  She could hear the blood now hammering in her ears as insistent as the music and wild patches of iridescent colour seemed to explode in the darkness behind the mask. The music swelled to a crescendo and still the iron grip tightened.

 

Above her, straddling her body that was trying so hard and so ineffectually to buck him off, he hummed along to the music, his head nodding in time with the beat as his grip never slackened.

 

Gradually he felt her movements slowing and ceasing and her body relaxed as her life departed.

 

Her killer rolled off her body and stood momentarily looking down at Hannah with genuine regret, then leaned forward and with gloved fingers delicately deleted the last section of the blog.  

 

Chapter Two

 

 

 

The central ring in the large, vaulted space of Bob’s Gym in Bermondsey. The fighters were training in the background, around them, almost centre stage, the multi-layered noise of a boxing gym.

 

The decibel levels were high. There was the thud of gloves on the heavy bags, on bodies and on pads, the grunts of  explosive effort as the punches were launched, the swishing of skipping ropes, the tacketa-tacketa-tacketa noise of the speed bags, the squeak of training shoes on polished wood and the shouts of instruction or encouragement.

 

Freddie Laidlaw, the owner and trainer at Bob’s Gym, looked at Hanlon speculatively. His eyes ran over her as she stood before him. He was looking for weakness. He could see none. Hanlon’s gaze was as steady and imperious as ever.

 

The last time he’d seen her was when he’d visited her once briefly in hospital, hiding behind the expensive bunch of flowers he had brought with him like a shield.

 

Hanlon had been in bed, her head and arm bandaged, the springs of her thick dark hair emphasising the pallor of her skin. His heart had felt heavy at the sight of her vulnerability. Then with her eyes still closed, she’d said,

 

“ Put the flowers on the table, Freddie. ”

 

“ How did you know it was me ? ”

 

She opened her grey eyes and looked at him sardonically, “ White lilies are for funerals, Freddie, ” she said, “ I could smell them coming down the corridor. ”

 

“ Oh, ” he said lamely.

 

“ I’m not dead yet, Freddie, but when I am, I’ll be sure to let you know. ”

 

He smiled at her, “ You do that, Hanlon. ”

 

She propped herself up on one elbow. It hurt, but she took care not to let the pain show, she even refused her eyes permission to narrow,  

“ I’m a hard woman to kill, ” she said.

   

That evening was Hanlon’s first time back in the gym since her fight with Conquest on the island. Laidlaw had watched her earlier jumping rope with effortless ease. As she skipped, basic jumps, shuffles and side swings. Hanlon was graceful and fluid in motion, her body concealed by a baggy old tracksuit.  Laidlaw noticed several of the other boxers stealing surreptitious glances at her movements. She was the only female boxer in the gym. Hanlon usually worked out and sparred with the handful of professionals and semi-pros who trained at the gym on the evenings when it was closed to amateurs. This was the first time most of them had ever seen her.

 

Aware of the attention and just for the hell of it, she finished off her half hour work-out with some showy rope tricks, cross-overs, double unders and double cross overs, the rope a blur of movement, haloing her slim body. She moved so fast the rope audibly swished through the air and cracked whip-like against the floor.

 

Beat that, she thought triumphantly.

 

Laidlaw went over to her, a faint sheen of sweat shining on her skin. She pushed her unruly hair backwards away from her forehead. Laidlaw noticed faint lines there that he was sure hadn’t existed before the struggle with Conquest that had ended in his death. He guessed it had cost her more than she would ever admit.

 

“ Ready ? ” he asked. She nodded and held her hands out, fingers splayed. Laidlaw with speed born of decades of practice taped her long, strong fingers. She flexed them, nodded in satisfaction and Laidlaw slipped on her boxing gloves.

 

He had agreed with Hanlon on just one three minute sparring round with one of the other boxers. Laidlaw had chosen Jay. He was a good, promising middleweight. At eleven and a half stone he was a stone and a half heavier than she was, so a challenge but not a mismatch.

 

Hanlon hadn’t been in the ring for nearly two months. She was keen to check her fitness levels and the extent to which her arm had recovered.

 

Laidlaw knew too that she would be desperate to release some of the aggression that would have built up inside her. Hanlon was one of those boxers who need it to release their aggression and she knew it. It was partly one of the reasons why she did triathlons. She wasn’t competing just against a clock, she wanted to smash her rivals.

 

Eight weeks of inaction were bottled up inside her.

 

The trainer got into the ring after her and motioned to Jay who followed suit. His black skin looked as though it had been carefully painted over an anatomically perfect body.

 

Laidlaw waved them together to the centre of the ring. Jay had a broad sceptical grin on his face. Hanlon was, for a start, as well as being a woman, almost exactly twice his age although little was visible of her beneath her head-guard and baggy track-suit. They tapped gloves. Jay’s smile froze and vanished as he saw Hanlon’s eyes, hard and watchful. Up until now he’d thought the whole thing might be some practical joke. He’d been making a mental note not to hit her too hard, to go easy on her. Not now. Not after that look. The two of them circled each other and then Jay moved in.

Three minutes sounds like no time at all, the length of a song on the radio or the time it takes to clean your teeth. Three minutes.

 

Now, consider this.

 

Try leaning against someone the same weight as you. Put your head on the other person’s shoulder, neck bent so the top of your head is pressing just above their collar-bone and you’re staring at the floor. Let them do the same. Interlink the fingers of each hand with your partner’s and take it in turns to push. When the other person pushes forward with their arms, resist as hard as you can, with all your strength. Then it’s your turn to push, theirs to resist. Like pistons working against a heavy mass. Use your legs as well to drive yourself forward, as does your opponent. Do this for three minutes without a break, as hard and as fast as you can, without a pause to draw breath. That’s one round.

 

That will give some idea of the physical effort inside the ring. Now, imagine too, the other person is trying to hit you in the face and body as hard as they possibly can, as viciously as they can, and they are strong and quick and practised.

 

All there is, is the ring. That is the world.

 

You can’t turn away, there’s nowhere to hide, you just have to face them until the round is over. Your eyes fill with sweat, occasionally tears, sometimes blood. You can’t hear anything except your own laboured breathing, sometimes not even the bell.

 

All there is, is the ring. All there is, is the pain. All there is, is the effort.

 

You’re unaware of the crowd, unaware of your surroundings. It’s just you and your opponent and those gloves coming at you. And there’s no respite, no let-up, no remorse.

 

Time seems endless.

 

Hanlon loved boxing. She was made for it. Being back in the ring just felt so good, like slipping into the sea when she swam, gloriously right.

Her reflexes were as sharp as ever. She let Jay do the work, jerking her head out of the way of his fast jab which was accurate but not quick enough to catch her. He favoured a sharp right cross and Hanlon let him do the work, using her fast footwork and ring-craft to circle him. Occasionally she flicked out a lightning fast left of her own. Jay hadn’t expected this vicious jab and the first one caught him under his right eye which within seconds had started to swell. Not only did he start to lose all round vision, it affected his calculation of distance.

 

He shook his head in baffled surprise. I’m losing, he thought incredulously.

 

He dropped his guard slightly and that was enough for Hanlon. Another punch rode over the protective gloves in front of Jay’s face catching him off-balance and then as his feet moved awkwardly to restore his equilibrium, Hanlon was on him, sending what would have been rib-breaking body shots into his lower body, if she hadn’t pulled the power of the punches.

 

“ Break, ” said Laidlaw, moving between them, pushing them aside with his hands. He covered his mouth to hide his grin of delight. The old Hanlon was back. Lean and mean, he thought, lean and mean.

 

Hanlon moved over to a corner and rested against the ropes. She listened critically to her body. She was pleased, her breathing was perfect, her legs felt like steel. Jay came over pulling his head-guard off. He came up to her and they sportingly touched gloves. She could smell his short, cropped hair and youthful perspiration. He grinned at her taking his mouth-guard out as he did so, his teeth startlingly white against his black face. Hanlon thought, he’s ridiculously good-looking.

 

“ Respect, ” he said. Hanlon smiled at him. Good boxers are, paradoxically, usually gentlemen. Jay nodded and re-joined his companions.

Hanlon took her gum shield out and rinsed and spat into the bucket that Laidlaw was holding. The water was tinged pink with her blood where one of Jay’s head shots had damaged her mouth. Perspiration soaked through the faded grey fabric of her baggy, sleeveless top and Laidlaw could smell a hint of scent through her sweat.

 

“ Are you wearing perfume ? ” he asked. He’d never known her do that. Hanlon’s unfriendly gaze met his.

 

“ I was seeing someone I know earlier, ” she said. “ A friend.” Her expression dared him to ask another question. Laidlaw had plenty of experience of reading hostility in faces and body posture, he wasn’t going to make that mistake. He knew the high price she put on her privacy.

 

He watched Hanlon’s back, her head held high, as she walked back across the gym. Several of the other fighters touched her shoulder gently as she passed. Laidlaw shook his head with rueful affection and sighed. She was back.

 

As she did so, a figure in the shadows of the viewing gallery above the ring who had been watching the fight unobserved in the darkness under the eaves of the roof, quietly got to his feet and slipped away towards the exit.

 

Hanlon showered in Laidlaw’s personal bathroom and pulled her clothes on. She felt elated. She had won, he had lost. The best of feelings.

 

She winced as she got dressed. She studied her half-naked body in the mirror and she could see the skin around her ribs starting to change colour, to darken, as she began to bruise. Her left eye, too, was puffy and swollen where Jay had caught it with a punch she had been unable to avoid. By the morning it would be black.

 

Later that night she knew she’d be in considerable discomfort from the beating her body had taken from Jay’s gloves, but Hanlon didn’t mind that kind of pain. It was there because of what she’d achieved. No pain, no gain. If there’s no charge, it’s not worth attending the show.

 

She was pleased overall with her performance. It was the first time she had been in a fight since her struggle with Conquest on the island, which was a couple of months ago now. Her arm had healed perfectly and her fitness levels were better than ever.

       

She walked out of the fire door at the rear of the building, sure-footed and silent on the metal steps of the fire escape. Her sports bag in her left hand was partially unzipped and jutting out from it was the handle of a standard issue police telescopic baton. Hanlon had made a fair few enemies in her time and one day she suspected one of them would come looking for her. She also didn’t trust the dark streets of Bermondsey at the best of times, no matter how happening it was becoming. Either way, she was ready.

 

As she exited the narrow alleyway into the dark, dimly-lit street she saw a tall figure step out of the gloom. With one fluid movement, she drew the carbon steel baton as a familiar voice said,

 

“ It’s me, DI Hanlon. You can put the baton away now, unless you want to be arrested for assaulting a senior officer. ”

 

“ Yes, sir, ” said Hanlon. Her hand moved away from the comforting metal handle.

 

“ How can I help you ? ” she asked.

 

“ You can join me for dinner, Detective Inspector,  ” said the Assistant Commissioner stepping into the soft halo of a streetlight, “ I’ve got a job offer for you. ”