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‘Then go away. Leave me alone.’

Frost shrugged and mooched back to the car for another cigarette.

‘What now, Guv?’ asked Morgan, who always imagined Frost had instant solutions to all problems.

‘Gawd knows,’ shrugged Frost. ‘Sit it out, I suppose. He can’t stay in there for ever.’

‘He sounds suicidal,’ said Kate Holby.

‘If he tops himself, then hard luck. I’m not risking lives trying to stop him.’ A tapping at the car window made him look up. He opened the door to Simms.

‘Have you got your radio switched off, Inspector?’

Frost checked. ‘Yes. Sorry’

‘Control’s going mad trying to contact you.’

Frost switched on and picked up the handset. ‘Frost. What’s the panic?’

‘Mullett wants you,’ Lambert told him.

‘And I thought it was urgent,’ sighed Frost.

‘Putting you through now,’ said Lambert.

‘Frost,’ said Mullett, sounding annoyed as usual. ‘We’ve been trying to contact you.’

‘Sorry, Super. Radio went on the blink. We’ve just managed to fix it.’

‘We’ve had Taylor’s wife on the phone. She’s frantic. She and Taylor are separated. He doesn’t have access to their one-year-old son. Taylor picked the kiddy up from the childminder and didn’t take him back home.’

Frost went cold. ‘Shit. He must have the kid in there with him. I need back-up.’ This completely changed the situation.

‘DCI Skinner is coming over to take command.’

‘Terrific,’ muttered Frost. ‘Our troubles are over!’ He turned to the others. ‘Taylor’s got his one-year-old son in there with him.’ He opened the car door. ‘Let’s have another bleeding fireside chat.’

He moved as far up the path as he dared and yelled, ‘Mr Taylor!’

Movement at the window. ‘What do you want?’

‘Have you got your son with you?’

‘He goes where I go.’

‘He could get hurt. Let’s get him out of there.’

‘He stays with me.’

‘What’s the point of all this, Mr Taylor? You’ve got to come out some time. This is doing no one any good. What do you want?’

‘I’ll tell you what I want.’ The man was screaming now. ‘I want the world to know what that bastard supermarket has done to me…’

‘And what has it done to you?’

‘I had a market garden. I supplied all their vegetables – top-quality stuff, but they kept cutting the price they wanted to pay me. And then they wanted to cut it to below the cost of production. When I couldn’t meet their price, they dropped me. I lost everything.’

‘Tough,’ said Frost. ‘But how does this help?’

‘I want the world to know what that bastard Beazley did to me. I want the press here… I want television… I want the bloody world to know what a shit he is.’

‘All right, send your son out and I’ll get the media here.’

‘My son stays with me.’

‘Is he all right, Mr Taylor? He’s very quiet.’

A long pause.

‘Mr Taylor,’ repeated Frost. ‘Is he all right?’

‘He’s sleeping… peacefully sleeping.’

‘If I get the media here and you give them your story, will you end this? Will you come out quietly with the baby?’

Again a pause, then a none-too-convincing ‘Yes.’

‘Leave it to me.’ Frost returned to the car and lit up. ‘I don’t like this,’ he said. ‘I don’t like it one sodding bit. Still, we’ve got no choice. We’ll have to go along with him. I get the feeling the bastard might make his point by doing himself in in front of the TV cameras and before the bleeding watershed.’

Headlights flared in the windscreen as DCI Skinner’s car pulled up alongside. ‘Our troubles are over,’ muttered Frost. ‘The United States Cavalry has arrived.’

Skinner yanked open the car door, then jerked a thumb for Morgan to get out so he could slide in beside Frost. He scowled as he noticed Kate Holby. ‘What the hell are you doing here? Didn’t I tell you – ’

‘We need her,’ cut in Frost. ‘Taylor’s got a baby with him. We could well need a woman.’

‘I told her to stay in the office. She’s disobeyed orders once too often. By the way, I’ve checked with that tart… She’s twenty-three.’ He turned to face the WPC. ‘You’re out, sweetie.’ Back to Frost. ‘Fill me in.’

Frost brought him up to date.

Skinner frowned. ‘And you haven’t called in Armed Response?’

‘I don’t want to escalate things. I want to keep it as low key as possible.’

‘Firing at police officers is hardly low bleeding key, is it?’

‘He fired in their direction. He could have hit them if he’d wanted to.’

‘OK, we’ll keep them out of it for the time being. Those bastards like to steal all the flaming glory. And he’s got the child in there with him?’

Frost shrugged his shoulders. ‘He says he has, but we haven’t heard a peep out of the kid. He says the baby is sleeping peacefully – that’s got me worried.’

Skinner stared at him. ‘What do you mean?’

‘With all the shouting and noise, I’d expect the kid to be bawling its head off. He might have done him in.’

Skinner frowned. ‘Done him in? You’re a cheerful bleeding sod, aren’t you? You’ve got no bloody proof of that.’

‘Of course I’ve got no bloody proof. I hope I’m wrong, but Taylor’s gone round the bend. He’s not talking logically any more.’

The DCI chewed this over. ‘Suppose we rushed him – drove the car at speed to the door, bashed our way in and charged up the stairs?’

‘Even I’m not prat enough to try that,’ said Frost. ‘He’s got suicidal tendencies. He’d have shot himself and the kid before you were halfway down the passage.’

‘We can’t just bloody well sit here,’ said Skinner.

Then think of something, thought Frost. I’m out of flaming ideas. Aloud he said, ‘He wants to pour his heart out to the media.’

Skinner shook his head. ‘I don’t want the media here at this stage. If anything goes wrong I don’t want our mistakes broadcast all over the flaming country.’ He tugged at his nose in thought. ‘I’ll talk to him. Do we know his phone number?’

‘If he’s got his mobile on him, we know that number. It’s written on the side of the lorry.’

‘Then try it.’

Frost dialled and handed his mobile over.

The call was answered on the first ring. ‘What do you want?’

‘Mr Taylor?’

‘Who the hell did you think it would be? Who are you?’

‘Detective Chief Inspector Skinner.’

‘I don’t want to speak to you. Let me talk to the scruffy one.’

Skinner handed the phone to Frost. ‘He wants to speak to you.’

‘What is it, Mr Taylor?’

‘The media. Where’s the media?’

‘On their way,’ lied Frost. ‘How’s the baby?’

A pause, then, ‘He’s fine. He’s at peace.’

A cold shiver crawled down Frost’s spine. ‘You’re sure he’s all right?’

‘He’s at peace.’

‘Can we see him?’

‘No. I want the media. I want Beazley. I want him here.’ The line went dead.

Frost stared at his mobile, then turned it off. ‘Did you hear that?’ he asked Skinner.

Skinner nodded. ‘Yeah. I don’t want the flaming media here yet. Hold on. Do nothing. I’m going to take a recce.’ He opened the car door and stepped out into the darkness.

‘A reccy?’ said Frost to Morgan. ‘Is that another name for a slash?’

‘Reconnaissance, Guv,’ explained Morgan.

‘Oh!’ said Frost, as if he didn’t know. He lit up another cigarette he didn’t want and watched the smoke writhe its way up to the roof. ‘It might not be a bad idea to get his wife down here.’

More car headlights shone through the wind screen. A blue Porsche Superintendent Mullett. ‘Shit,’ groaned Frost. ‘Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse.’

Mullett tapped on his window and beckoned Frost over. ‘Update,’ he snapped as Frost slid in beside him.

‘Up what?’ asked Frost innocently.

‘I want an update,’ barked Mullett. ‘What is the current position? Where is DCI Skinner?’

‘Taylor’s in that upstairs room. He’s got a shotgun and is threatening to shoot anyone who comes too near. We think he’s got his one-year-old son with him, but we can’t be sure.’