‘So, you’re quite the hero, Mr Sketty.’
The man addressing me in a soft Edinburgh accent is Dr Ralph Teller, a short, round individual of about seventy, who reminds me in appearance of Richard Attenborough, the owner of Jurassic Park in the original movie, and the one responsible for all those dinosaurs running loose and misbehaving. Dr Teller has a surprisingly cheerful demeanour considering that he suffers from an advanced and degenerative form of multiple sclerosis, which has left him permanently confined to a wheelchair, and will, in his own words, finish him off for good before too long. Right now, we’re sitting opposite each other in the room he calls his snug, although it’s at least as big as my living room at home. A log fire burns enthusiastically in the grate, casting shadows across the pitted stone walls, while outside the window, cold December rain lashes down.
‘I can promise you, Dr Teller,’ I tell him, ‘I would have preferred not to have been a hero. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
‘The bravest men are often the most reluctant to participate in the fray,’ he says sagely, taking a sip from his whisky, and I get the feeling that this is a phrase he’s just made up, and that he makes up a lot of phrases like this. You see, I’m certain that Dr Teller (the Dr bit comes from his PhD in anthrozoology, whatever the hell that is) is not only a pseudo-intellectual, but also a fraud, the type of guy who’s always got a hidden agenda, and the playfully cunning look in his eye as he observes me over the rim of the glass just reinforces my impression.
Teller puts his drink down on the gnarly wooden table next to him, his hand shaking and shivering, and tries to make himself comfortable in the wheelchair before he speaks again. ‘I invited you here because I wanted to hear your story. In your own words. And I know what an imposition it is for you to come all this way to see some curious old man, which is why you’ll find that the money I promised should already be in your account, if you’d like to check.’
Teller has paid me the princely sum of a thousand pounds to come out to his mansion in the Oxfordshire countryside and talk to him, which is actually less than the going rate. Right now, everyone who’s anyone wants to interview me, and I’m a man in demand.
‘I’ll check later,’ I tell him, keen to get this over with. There’s a tension in this room and I have a worrying feeling that a trap is being set for me. I need to be careful, but then I knew that before I came here, which is why I’m drinking sparkling water that I’ve opened myself and not the whisky on offer. I take a drink of the water now and say: ‘Where do you want me to start?’
‘Where all stories start, Mr Sketty. At the beginning. However,’ he adds, his eyes glinting brightly and malevolently in the room’s dim light as he leans forward in the wheelchair, ‘I want the truth, not your embellished version of events.’
I immediately tense. ‘I’m not sure I follow you.’
‘I think you do,’ he says with a confidence I don’t like.
‘Look, I came here voluntarily to talk to you about the case. But I’m not prepared to be accused of being a liar.’ I put down my drink, thinking that agreeing to talk to this old man was always a bad idea. I don’t need the money and I certainly don’t need the grief. ‘Perhaps it’s best if I just leave.’
I start to lift myself out of my armchair. My bad hip has become stiff from being sat down for the past ten minutes while we did the various small talk. Dr Teller doesn’t seem remotely perturbed, however. Instead, he’s actually smiling, the sly bastard, and there’s something predatory about it. ‘Before you go, Mr Sketty, you might want to see this.’ He reaches round in his wheelchair, moving slowly, and retrieves a plain cardboard folder from under the table, leaning forward to hand it to me.
I don’t much want to take it, but curiosity gets the better of me. It contains a couple of dozen pages of printed A4 paper, complete with photographs, and as soon as I start reading, I can see this is trouble. This man Teller, a doctor of anthrozoology, for Christ’s sake, knows everything about my career. And I mean everything, including parts that I’ve kept extremely well hidden. I take a deep breath, retaining my composure. ‘How did you get the information in here?’
‘My wife died at the Villa Amalfi,’ he says, mentioning that terrible night all those years ago that has changed both our lives forever. ‘She was everything to me. Everything. And I lost her. Just like that.’ His face contorts with a savage, almost primeval pain that for a moment makes him look like a man possessed by some evil spirit, then he shakes his head angrily as if banishing it. After a moment, he composes himself and turns back to me. ‘I’ve had fourteen long years to research this case and everyone’s part in it, including yours. It’s been my focus. My passion. My very existence. And the combination of time, determination and very large sums of money is a particularly effective means of finding things out.’
‘If you know so much, what do you need me for?’
‘There are still a few gaps, and I believe you’re the man who can fill them.’
‘And if I don’t tell you?’
‘Then I’m afraid that everything in that folder gets made public.’
‘So you’re blackmailing me?’
‘I wouldn’t put it like that. At the moment, I’m simply giving you an incentive to talk.’
He takes another dainty sip of the whisky while I consider my options. But in truth I don’t really have any. The information in this folder is incendiary.
Slowly I lower myself back into the chair and we eye each other warily.
‘Take me through it right from the beginning,’ he says.
And so that’s where I start.
BRAVE HERO OR CRIMINAL MASTERMIND?
TONIGHT WE FIND OUT.
'Simon Kernick writes with his foot pressed hard on the pedal. Hang on tight!' HARLAN COBEN
'Great plots, great characters, great action' LEE CHILD
Undercover cop Chris Sketty became a hero when he almost died trying to stop the most brutal terror attack in UK history. With the suspects either dead or missing, the real motive remains a mystery.
But someone is convinced Sketty is a liar.
A criminal mastermind.
Blackmailed into revealing the truth, Sketty will share a twisting tale of betrayal, deception and murder...with a revelation so shocking that nothing will be the same again.
'That thud you hear is Kernick whipping the rug from under your feet again.' THE TIMES
'An absolute master of the adrenaline-fuelled ride' PETER JAMES
'One of Britain's top thriller writers' THE SUN