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Chapter Eight

Five sheets of paper had been coiled into the plastic tube, the outermost three clearly a high print quality photographic paper. Brawn glanced quickly at the other two, then focused all his attention on the missing black and white photos.

The hand of the priest took centre stage. The first showed the forearm down to the elbow, the sleeve drawn back to reveal thin white hairs against sun-darkened skin. Brawn looked closer – there appeared to be some deformation of the skin over the bone of the wrist. He switched to the next image.

The close-up confirmed his suspicion: across the bony protrusion of the wrist was the pucker of an old scar. Before passing years had healed it into a gnarled twist it had been a smooth downward cut, starting deeply on the flesh of the arm then sweeping across the wrist towards the edge of the palm before dropping again, growing progressively more shallow until at the end it was barely a break of the skin.

Brawn had no idea what the scar might signify. He turned to the final photo.

The clawed fingers of the hand. And, on the index finger, a tell-tale band of pale skin that could only mean one thing: when he met his grim end, the priest was missing a ring.

One which had not left his finger in many years.

Brawn placed the photographs on the seat beside him, lost in thought. Whoever it was who had made contact with him had decided that these images revealed something too important to include with the others, though the outlandish details – a priest skewered on iron railings – would no doubt be startling enough to draw the attention of anyone, whether they were searching for it or not.

Something connected this missing ring and this strange scar, made them more significant than the secondary fact of vicious death. These were the things being watched for, not the priest himself.

He turned his gaze to the two remaining sheets, both ordinary paper this time – but he could make no sense of them whatsoever. Both were covered with print, front and back, a jumbled mix of characters that contained no obvious message. They could represent a code, but the font was so tiny that, even when he peered closely at them, there was too much data to identify any recurring pattern that might lead him to break it.

Brawn thought for a moment, planning his next move. Abruptly he re-coiled the photographs and slid them back into the tube, placing it beside the H&K and closing up the hidden compartment. He folded the two printouts, gently, and tucked them into his jacket. In the pocket where, only a little while ago, his WSA ID wallet would have rested comfortably next to his heart.

Then he popped open his mobile phone and auto-dialled a particular number. He heard the familiar hum of a triple-secure connection, then a dialling tone. Then –

“Who is this, and how on earth are you hiding your caller ID?” said a waspish voice.

“It’s Brawn, Russell.”

“Don! I should have known – who else? – and even when you’re on a blacklist, as I hear. How are you?”

“I’ve had better mornings, Russell. I could use your talents.”

“How long I’ve waited for you to ask, my dear. When should I expect you?”

“I’ll be there in five.”

Brawn hung up, cutting off the squawk of outrage on the other end of the line. He de-polarised the windscreens, hit the ignition and – with a thin smile – let the Tesla off her leash for a change.

He was there in two.

X

Chapter Seven xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Chapter Nine

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