Get a peek between the covers of Jo Bannister's newest mystery novel, Death in High Places. This extended excerpt will introduce you to Nicky Horn, who after being blamed for the death of a friend during an Alaskan mountain climb, is rebuilding his life while simultaneously running from a hit man hired by the father of his deceased friend.
He’d got in the way of returning home at diﬀerent times and by diﬀerent routes. The ﬁrst thing he did when he moved to a new town was rehearse the alternatives, driving and on foot, and make a note of where it was normal to see parked cars and men standing on street corners and where it wasn’t. After four years it was second nature to him.
After four years the whole business had become second nature. Finding work where he could get cash in hand and no one would want his National Insurance number. Finding somewhere to live where paying the rent in advance would save him having to prove who he was. His name was Nicky Horn. But that wasn’t the name the world knew him by. It wasn’t even one of them.
All the lies he told—the mislaid driver’s license, the stolen passport, the pink slip that got lost in the post—would never have stood up to serious scrutiny. But they never had to. Before anyone got suﬃciently interested to start checking him out he’d packed his bag, thrown his tools in the back of the car and moved on. He’d been doing it for nearly as long as he’d been back in England. It worked pretty well on the whole. It was months since he’d felt death breathing on the back of his neck.
And that was a problem too. The better he got at this, the more distance he put between himself and pursuit, the greater the risk of complacency. Complacency can be the biggest killer of all. Bigger than hatred, bigger than love. As perilous as sunshine on snow. He was stronger, ﬁtter and faster than his pursuers, and he wanted to live even more than they wanted him dead. The biggest danger was not that they’d wear him down, although one day they might; or that they might get lucky, though that too was always a possibility. The biggest danger was that one day he might dare to think he was safe. To relax and let down his guard. He’d never be safe. He knew that now. If he ever allowed himself to entertain the idea, even for a moment, even as a daydream, he might as well cut his own throat. Cut his own rope. It would be a cleaner end, and no more certain.
The other thing was, he was getting tired. Physically tired— the constant moving, the broken nights, the fact that even when he slept he did so with one ear cocked, might be considered a natural part of a young man’s life, but they took their toll when extended over four years—but also mentally and emotionally. The things he’d done, the lies he’d told. He was sick and tired of the whole sorry business. Sometimes in the long hard watches of the night he thought it might be better to stop running, to let events take their course. He wasn’t afraid of dying. He’d never been afraid of dying. But he used to have more to live for.
He gave himself a shake. He couldn’t aﬀord to think like that. You don’t give up; you never give up. There’s always a way down the mountain—you just have to ﬁnd it. Tommy Hanratty wasn’t a young man. He could die. And he wasn’t a good man—someone could kill him. Horn knew it was a long shot. But when it’s the only kind you’re likely to get, you take the long shot and hope for the best.
Sometimes that was the hardest part of all. Keeping hope alive.
Despite the spring rain he left his car a street away and walked the last hundred yards. He wasn’t sure but he thought it was a good idea. If he found himself cornered one day, Hanratty’s hirelings would ﬁnd it harder to predict his actions if they weren’t sure where his car was. He could sneak out the back way and circle round with some conﬁdence that they’d be watching the house where he was lodging, not the next street. The people where he lived didn’t even know he had a car. Sometimes he made sure they saw him using the bus. Psychologists call it compartmentalization. You build barriers between the diﬀerent parts of your life, in the hope that when the shit hits the fan there’ll always be somewhere clean where you can hide.
Nicky Horn believed he’d become an expert in compartmentalization. In fact he was wrong about that. The shit had hit the fan before he knew he needed barriers, and the smell tainted every aspect of his life. He’d just got used to it.
A couple of cars he didn’t recognize were parked on the corner. Probably it meant nothing. Since he got here two months ago someone had opened a sandwich bar. Which was handy for a man whose idea of cooking was to reheat a pot of coﬀee, but it made it harder to spot the faces that didn’t ﬁt, the strangers with no obvious business in the area. He’d learned it was safer not to take a room opposite a factory or a pub, but things change. Someone opened a sandwich bar the week before last, and it was time he moved on.
There was a man in one of the cars. The light from the streetlamps bouncing oﬀ the wet road was enough to show a face that would have been unreadable on a better night. Still mostly from habit Horn gave him a glance as he walked past— casual enough not to arouse curiosity, long enough to remember what he saw. A middle-aged man in a dark coat. Narrow, longish face, no glasses or mustache, short graying hair. Hard to say how tall when he was sitting down. He looked up as Horn looked down and their eyes met for a second, then the man looked away—unhurriedly, checking the mirror. Waiting for someone in the café, probably. Horn walked on, his toolbag slung over his shoulder, crossed the road and went home.
It was gone ten o’clock. He took overtime when he could get it, to make up for the times when he’d had to leave a good job with- out collecting his pay because the look on a stranger’s face said he’d been recognized. More than once, he was sure, he’d read too much into an everyday exchange of glances and ﬂed his latest job and his latest bed because someone had nothing better to do than idly watch the passersby. It couldn’t be helped. He had to act on instinct. If he waited for proof it would be too late.
Interested to see what happens next? Make sure to pick up your copy of Jo Bannister's Death in High Places today!