Today's Reading

"Oi, ISIS, where you think you're going?" the driver says, following him into the road. "What's in them boxes anyway, a bomb?"

Tannahill feels a familiar anger rise inside him, but the duty phone buzzes in his pocket again, reminding him he has much bigger fish to fry as the Volkswagen pulls to a halt in front of him and the tailgate starts to rise. He moves to the back of the car, the boxes feeling ten times heavier now than when he started, and the courier gets out to help.

"Oi, ISIS, don't you ignore me," the other driver shouts.

The courier looks shocked. "Don't worry about him," Tannahill says, lowering the boxes gratefully into the back of the Volkswagen. "You got the transfer documents?"

"You two a couple of benders?" the driver continues, refusing to let it drop. "Them boxes full of dildos or summink?"

Tannahill flexes the stiffness from his hands, scribbles his signature on the paperwork, then pulls his buzzing phone from his pocket, silencing it with a jab of his finger.

"I'm on the street out front," Tannahill says. "How close are you?" He nods at the answer, then hangs up. He waits for the courier to drive away, then finally turns to the angry driver. "What was that you said I looked like?"

The driver sneers. "A poof," he says. "You look like a poof and a terrorist."

Tannahill nods. "It's the brown skin, isn't it? Brown skin, must be a terrorist. When I was growing up I was called all sorts—Paki, camel jockey, raghead. My dad was Pakistani, you see, Irish mum but I got his skin and hair, so..."

A siren starts up somewhere nearby, the sound bouncing off the buildings, making it impossible to tell where it's coming from.

"When I went to high school I pretended to be Italian for a while, thought it might silence the twats. Didn't really think it through. Ended up being called a dago and a spic instead, at least I did until someone found out the truth and all the old names came flooding back, or they did until 9/11."

The sound of the siren doubles as a dark gray Vauxhall Insignia appears round the corner, blue lights flashing behind the grill. Tannahill holds his hand up to the driver.

"Since 9/11 and 7/7 I mostly get called things like Osama, or Taliban, or what was the one you called me? ISIS."

The car pulls to a halt, the ear-splitting siren shredding the air. Tannahill draws his hand across his throat in a cutting motion and the siren goes silent. He pulls a small leather wallet from his pocket, lets it fall open, and watches the driver's expression change as he sees the warrant card and reads the words printed on it:

Tannahill Khan 
Detective Chief Inspector

"So let me ask you again," Tannahill says, slipping the wallet back in his pocket. "What do I look like?"

The driver swallows. "A copper," he says, all the piss and vinegar now drained from his voice.

Tannahill nods slowly, then looks over at the parked Mercedes minivan. "This your vehicle, sir?"

The driver nods.

"Nice." Tannahill moves round to the front and looks at the registration plate. "This year's reg too. Let me ask you something, do you know what an ANPR camera is?"

The driver shakes his head.

"It stands for Automatic Number Plate Recognition. It's everywhere now—traffic lights, junctions, roundabouts, car parks—we only have to tap in the registration of a car we're interested in and the moment it drives by a camera on the network, it pings up on a central computer, which sends an alert to the nearest squad car, which then pulls it over faster than you can say I didn't do anything, officer, someone must've put my registration on the system because I was a bit racist." Tannahill takes a step closer and lowers his voice. "Look at me." The driver looks up but his chin is down, like a dog who knows he's chewed the wrong shoe.

"We all make mistakes. The most important thing is to own them and learn from them, do you understand what I'm saying?"

The driver nods. Swallows. "Sorry," he murmurs. 

"What was that?"

"Sorry," he says, a little louder this time.

Tannahill pauses for just long enough for it to become uncomfortable, then smiles. "Good lad." He steps away from him and gets into the passenger seat of the waiting squad car. "Oh, and just for the record," he says, before closing the door, "you really do look like a courier."

Then he slams the door and the car takes off down the street, lights flashing, siren screaming.

This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book Outside by Ragnar Jonasson. 

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