Friday, 6 November 2015

LAST LINE - First Chapter: Rob A Bank


[LAST LINE, the sequel to DEAD DROP, is out now. Click on the following links to read excerpts from the novel's fourth and seventh chapters.]

CHAPTER ONE: ROB A BANK

The night belonged to the savage and the free
Screaming and dancing through the smoke and debris
The police beat a retreat
Through a hail of bricks and glass
No hope of enduring their unwelcome trespass
The sky glowed orange from the blaze below
London was liberty's inferno.

Through the chaos walked three young punks. Their dress was the common uniform of torn denim and studded leather. Each carried a heaving backpack over their shoulder. Tinted driving goggles and cloth face masks protected them from the noxious fumes corrupting the air from the flaming shell of a nearby car, which spread pools of roaring heat and light across the walls of the chasm separating the soaring city skyscrapers.
  
The tallest of these was Fortescue Tower, a monolith of glass and concrete vertical lines. Its glass front doors had been damaged and were scarred with a cobweb of jagged splinters, but remained intact. The lights in the art deco foyer on the other side had been dimmed to avoid attracting attention, but four security guards armed with batons, and a burly man sitting behind the front desk, served as warning to anyone hoping to breach the building's perimeter.

The three punks pushed through the crowd to a side street off the main road. Once out of sight, they threw down their backpacks behind the safety of a skip and pulled off their goggles and masks.

"Looks well guarded in there," one of them said, a young boy with bright green hair. He rotated his arm to loosen the tight shoulder muscles beneath his studded leather jacket. "Think they was expecting trouble?"

"Nah," said the girl standing next to him. She itched her fingers between the zig-zagging braids beneath her spiky platinum mohawk. "Rich pricks love surrounding themselves with security. Got that thing working yet, Rick?"

"It's being a right sod," said Rick, the eldest of the three, as he grappled with a walkie-talkie from inside his backpack. "Bad signal or something, I dunno."

"We're gonna show 'em tonight, right, Rick?" the first boy said. "String 'em up, draw first blood in the anarchist revolution?"

"Belt up, Syd," Rick said.

"Sorry, Rick," Syd replied, sliding down the wall until he was sitting on the grimy pavement below. "But it's true, right, Suze? Everything we talked about? It's startin' tonight, in't it?"

"Quiet," Suze replied. "Nothing's happening until Rick gets that walkie-talkie working."

Rick swore to himself as he pressed the switch once again and spoke into the speaker.

"You there, Jon?" he said.

At the fourth attempt, a voice broke through the fuzz on the other end.

"That you, Rick?" the voice said.

"Course it's me, you prat," Rick said. "Who else is it gonna be? The postman giving your gran a dirty call? Stop mucking about. Everything good at your end?"

"Yeah," Jon replied after muttering a barely audible obscenity under his breath. "Should be ready in a tick."

"No problems getting there, then?"

"Nah. Barely anyone here. Couple of guards. Everyone else is on strike. I'm gonna get lynched if anyone finds out I crossed the picket line, though."

"This comes off we'll all be rich enough to never have to work again," Rick said. "Might even let you be drummer in my band if you ask nicely."

"Yeah, yeah," Jon replied. "Right. All set up. You ready?"

"Giz a minute," Rick replied. "I'll call you back."

Rick released the switch and the walkie-talkie went dead. He snatched up one of the backpacks and walked out into the inferno of the crowded road. He quickly spotted a masked gang throwing rocks at a row of advancing policemen and made his way towards them.

One of the gang noticed him and signalled to the others.

"You lads want to do some real damage?" Rick said as he tore open the backpack.

Insider were eight carefully packed bottles with damp rags stuffed into the stoppers. Even through the acrid stench of burning metal suffusing the night air, the dangerous smell of petrol bled out from inside the bag.

"Those what I think they are?" one of the gang members said.

Rick nodded.

"Hardcore!" another said. He reached inside the bag and carefully handed the bottles out to his friends. "Ta, mate!"

Rick pulled a metal lighter from his jacket pocket.

"Need a light?"

The gang member smirked. "Not half as much as the old Bill," he said.

He held out the bottle and Rick lit the cloth with his lighter. The petrol-soaked fabric ignited quickly. After a short run up, he launched the bottle towards the police line. The bottle smashed on the ground in front of the advancing officers and a billow of red flame erupted into the air, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Rick tossed his lighter to the nearest gang member, gave him a troublemaker's wink, then returned to the side street where Syd and Suze were waiting for him.

"Should keep the filth busy," he said. "Come on, let's get started."

They darted out into the road, heading for the front entrance to Fortescue Tower.

Behind them, the crowd was jeering as the remaining policemen scrambled to escape the firebombs exploding around them. Two officers were set upon and furiously beaten.

"Hopefully'll be a while 'til that lot get broken up," Rick said.

A searchlight swept across the street as a helicopter soared overhead. Its propellers cut through the dark smoke suffocating the night sky and fanned the flames on the road below.

Rick reached inside Suze's backpacks. He removed a thin metallic cylinder with three small holes in the base.

"Here," he said, handing it to Syd. "You know how this works. Do your magic."

Syd slammed the base of the cylinder against the Fortescue Tower doors. With a squeeze of the handle, spikes shot out from the holes and into the glass. Syd twisted the cylinder's head and it began buzzing, vibrating the cracked surface of the doors at a rapidly intensifying frequency.

"Good to go," Syd said.

Rick nodded and signalled Jon on the walkie-talkie.

"Now!"

* * * *

Across London, in the control room of the main generators at Dagenham Power Station, Jon Spinkley, the fourth member of Rick's gang, stood over the command console for Central London with two unconscious operators at his feet.

He lowered the walkie-talkie from his ear. After a moment's hesitation, he pressed an innocuous grey button in the centre of the console.

Mounted on the wall in front of him was an expansive grid divided into hundreds of small illuminated squares, each representing a different section of the city. As he pressed the button, four squares near the centre went dark.

Jon smiled and picked up the walkie-talkie.

"You got about five minutes," he said into the crackling loudspeaker. "That's when the backups kick in and I can't do nothing to stop it. See you at home base."

* * * *

A chill rushed through Rick's body as he looked up and saw every light in Central London die before his eyes.

"Beautiful," he said.

The rampaging crowd stopped in their tracks as the city plunged into darkness. The only remaining light came from the flames of firebombs and burning cars, and the blue searchlight sweeping across the crowd as the helicopter soared thunderously overhead.

A battle cry emerged from behind the wall of smoke and fire at the far end the road. An army of silhouettes broke through, waving batons over their heads and using circular shields to protect themselves from the onslaught of projectiles.

"The rozzers are on the charge," Rick said. "That thing working yet?"

"Give it a few more seconds..." Syd replied.

The glass beneath the cylinder was vibrating furiously. The cracks in its surface grew longer and deeper.

Two security guards in the foyer on the other side approached cautiously to see what was happening.
Syd and Suze retreated to a safe distance and stuck their fingers in their ears.

In front of them, the onrushing police collided with the rioters. Batons hammered down into the densely packed mob as rocks and angry screams filled the air.

The buzzing from the small cylinder reached its apex. The door shattered under the pressure, sending shards of glass flying back into the foyer and skewering the bodies of the two unprepared guards.
Syd and Suze pulled metal coshes out of their backpacks and charged inside.

Guards came at them from both sides. Suze dodged a swinging fist and smashed her cosh into her assailant's stomach. The man dropped to his knees, gasping for air. A single blow finished him off.
As Syd handled the second guard, Rick darted for the main desk where the attendant was desperately pressing a little black button above his knee.

Realising nothing was happening, he looked up and saw a glowering Rick standing on top of the desk in front of him.
 
"No power, no alarms, mate," he said.

He stamped his leather boot down into the face of the attendant, who fell from his chair with a shriek and a splash of blood from his broken nose, then lay unconscious on the reflective floor.

"Syd," Rick shouted back. "The power'll be on again in a minute. Go and find the security room."

Syd grunted. He kicked the guard at his feet once more for good measure, then made for the locked door behind the desk.

"You know your way out?" Rick said.

"Course I do," Syd replied as he picked the lock. "I learnt the blueprints, didn't I?"

"Aces," Rick said. "Keep the engine running when you're back at the van, right? Our getaway's not being ruined 'cause you stall the bloody engine again."

"One time," Syd muttered.

He grinned as the lock clicked open.

"See you on the other side, mate," he said.

Rick patted him on the back of the head. "Just make sure all the alarms are off for good once we get upstairs, right? See you later."

Syd nodded and pushed through the door.

A minute later, the foyer lights turned back on. Rick hurried across to the lift and pressed the button to summon it.

"How's it lookin' out there?" he called to Suze, who was watching the fighting outside through the shattered front doors.

"Crowd's putting up a good fight," Suze said. "Should buy us a nice chunk of time."

"Good," Rick said. The lift doors pinged open. "Get that sonic thingy and let's go an' pay a visit to the man upstairs."

Suze collected the cylinder from beneath the shattered glass littering the pavement outside, then followed Rick into the ornately decorated lift. She ran her fingers along the gold-lined panelling as Rick pressed the button for the thirty-fourth floor.

"Bloody 'ell," Suze said. "This lift probably cost more than my flat."

"The sandwich I had for tea cost more than your flat," Rick said. Chintzy muzak filtered through the speakers above the door. "Music's better an' all."

"Sarky sod," Suze said. "Syd better be alright down there. My mum'll kill me if anything happens to him."

"He'll be fine," Rick said. "He knows what he's doing. Most of the time. You ready?"

They stepped out into an enormous open plan office space divided into an untidy grid by rows of desks. Each had its own computer and a letter tray piled high with documents and folders.

Despite the building's power being back on, the only light came through the window of a private office door at the opposite end of the vast room.

Rick navigated towards it. Suze followed, taking a detour to glance through the glass walls at the chaos raging on the street thirty-four floors below.

They reached the office door. Rick gave Suze a nod, then booted it open.

A fat, bald man with glasses and a thin grey beard recoiled in horror from behind the computer at his desk on the other side. His hand went down to his desk drawer. It returned wrapped around a pistol.
"He's got a shooter!" Suze said.

Rick launched his metal cosh through the air at the man's head. The man instinctively spun out of the way in his chair. The cosh thudded harmlessly off the wall behind him. The man's pistol barrel turned its attention back to Rick.

As he squeezed the trigger, Suze threw herself on top of him, deflecting his aim. The bullet crashed into the doorframe, detonating it in a flurry of broken wood.

The man swore loudly. He shoved Suzy away, sending her rolling over the desk and dragging a mess of stationery with her. Rick launched himself into an attack, but the man dodged out of the way, showing surprising agility for someone of his size. As he hit the carpeted floor, he felt crushing weight of the man's swollen body landing on top of him. Sweaty hands coiled around his throat. Powerful thumbs pressed into his windpipe.

"Do something!" Rick said as he gasped for air.

The man looked up just in time to see Suze's cosh smack him across the side of the head.

He rolled over, swearing profusely and pressing his sleeve against a bloody gash over his right eye.

"Took your damn time," Rick said with a cough. He collected the pistol from the office floor.

"Sorry," Suze said.

Rick harrumped. He gave the man a sharp kick in the backside and pointed the pistol at his head.

"Up you get, tubs," Rick said. "Your name Calthorpe? Tristram Calthorpe?"

"How dare you break into my office!" the man spluttered. He snatched up his broken glasses from the floor and examined the damage to the lenses.

"Not gonna ask again," Rick said.

"Yes, yes!" Calthorpe said. "What do you want? I warn you, if you or your friend even think about hurting me, I will make sure no-one in your family for ten generations is able to make money in this city. Do you understand? You do not threaten men like me!"

"You find it hard to fit all that ego around the stick up your arse?" Suze said.

Rick laughed, then beckoned Calthorpe to his feet. "Come on," he said. "On your big, fat footsies. I want you to get some stuff off that computer for me."

Calthorpe's eyes widened. "Who are you?" he said.

"The voice of the oppressed," Rick said. "Here to tear your world down. You'd better be quick unless you want a bullet in your belly. Not like I could miss a target that big."

Calthorpe rolled over and heaved himself up. As he did, Suze saw his hand moving over to his watch. A finger pressed down on the dialling pin and a tiny red light blinked on the face.

"He's got an alarm or something!" Suze said. "In his watch!"

Rick pulled Calthorpe back by the collar and forcibly lifted his arm. The watch's red light blinked again.

"That's right," Calthorpe said, his voice full of spite. "Private alarm. And if you have any idea what is on that computer, you will know that the chances of you leaving this building alive have just ceased to exist."

"Shut up!" Rick said. He thrashed the butt of the pistol against Calthorpe's head, knocking him unconscious. As his burst of rage subsided, he stepped back as he realised what he had done.

"Bloody hell..." he said. "We're in some shit now."

"Stop acting like a twat," Suze said. "They haven't got us yet."

She pulled the backpack off his shoulder and emptied it onto the floor.

"We'll hafta take the whole computer with us," she said. She tossed Rick the metal cylinder from inside her pocket. "Hopefully it'll fit in here. Go and do the window."

As she began tearing the wires out of the back of the computer, Rick hurried out of Calthorpe's office and made for the glass wall on the near side of the vast office space. He pressed the cylinder against the surface and activated it. The familiar buzzing recommenced. Within seconds, fissures began cutting through the thick glass.

As the fissures grew deep enough for wisps of cold wind to come whistling through, there followed a deafening chopping and the room flooded with light.

The searchlight of the helicopter hovering outside shone directly at Rick, blinding him as he staggered back to safety.

"What the hell's going on?" Suze said, running out of the office with the backpack over her shoulder and the tip of Hoffmann's bulky computer protruding from the top.

At the far end of the room, the lights above the lift doors began to illuminate.

"Someone's coming up," Suze said.

The glass in front of them shattered as the cylinder completed its task. The helicopter blades outside blasted smoky air into the room through the newly opened breach in the building's side.

Rick raised the pistol and began firing. The sound of the shots barely registered over the howling wind as the helicopter manoeuvered away from the gunfire. Its searchlight shattered as one of Rick's bullets found its target.

The lift doors opened with behind them. A platoon of armed soldiers flooded into the room. The lasers attached to the underside of their automatic weapons cut through the smoke as they sought out their targets.

Rick fired blindly towards them. The lasers disappeared as the soldiers ducked behind the desks for cover. Rick kept firing until the pistol offered nothing more than an empty click.

"Lucky I kept one of these spare," Suze said. She removed a firebomb from the spare backpack and lit the cloth. "Rick! Get off your arse and set up our way out!"

She tossed the backpack towards him, then stepped back and tossing the flaming bottle into the centre of the room. A bright red explosion engulfed the desks as burning petrol splashed in every direction.
As agonised screams filled his ears, Rick reached inside the backpack and removed two piton guns, a mess of rappel rope and two carabiners. He rushed to the edge of the dizzying thirty-floor drop where the glass wall had been. He fired both pitons into the floor, then attached the rappel ropes and looped one of them through the carabiner he clipped to his belt.

"Come on!" he shouted to Suze, whose face was lit a brilliant red as she watched the soldiers scramble helplessly away from the rising flames.

She looked back, but he was already gone. All that was left of him were the two pitons lodged firmly into the ground and the attached ropes, one of which was tautly extended over the building's edge.

"Could've bloody waited," Suze said.

She glanced back at her destructive handiwork one last time, then picked up a carabiner from the floor, attached it and the rope to her belt and made sure the computer was secure in her backpack. With a triumphant cry, she leapt into the freedom of the wild night.