Tag Archives: thriller

New edition of Kaitlin Queen’s Essex noir One More Unfortunate, including standalone bonus story

Published today:
a new edition of
One More Unfortunate by Kaitlin Queen
including standalone bonus story “Yesterday’s Dreams”

One More Unfortunate

It’s the mid-1990s and Nick Redpath has some issues to resolve. Like why he is relentlessly drawn back to a circle of old friends and enemies — and an old love — in his seaside birthplace in north Essex. And why he won’t let himself fall in love again. But first he must prove that he didn’t murder his old flame, Geraldine Wyse…

The ebook edition includes the standalone bonus story, “Yesterday’s Dreams”.

Kaitlin Queen is the adult fiction pen-name of a best-selling children’s author. Kaitlin also writes for national newspapers and websites. Born in Essex, she moved to Northumberland when she was ten and has lived there ever since. This is her first crime novel for an adult audience.

 

Ebook available from: Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon Canada

“There are twists and turns galore before finally the murder is solved… The characterizations are vivid, and in a couple of cases really quite affecting; the taut tale-telling rattles along at good speed; and the solution to the mystery is both startling and satisfying. Recommended.” – 5* Amazon review


New from infinity plus: No Grave for a Fox, and Muezzinland: the author’s edition

Following the success earlier this year of Beautiful Intelligence, Stephen Palmer’s fast-paced philosophical thriller exploring the emergence and nature of artificial sentience, infinity plus closes 2015 with two more titles from this author: No Grave for a Fox, a short novel set a few years after the close of Beautiful Intelligence; and a new edition of Muezzinland, the author’s preferred text of the third in this novel sequence.

No Grave for a Fox by Stephen Palmer

No Grave For A Fox by Stephen PalmerAvailable in print and ebook formats, 20 December 2015
http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/book.php?book=spngfaf

Ebook: Amazon US – Amazon UK – Barnes and Noble – Kobo – Apple – Smashwords

Print (ISBN: 1519390874): Amazon US – Amazon UK – CreateSpace – and other booksellers

In Beautiful Intelligence Stephen Palmer told a global story of artificial intelligence in a fractured, dangerous future, overseen by the eyes of the nexus. Now in No Grave For A Fox he continues the tale, returning to Kid Indigo, the mysterious AI last seen isolated and disorientated in the ruins of Seattle.

The year is 2110. In Africa, water and food shortages force many people to exist hand-to-mouth, including a couple of itinerant street musicians, Ibrahim and Elodie. When a Japanese dog appears one evening at a gig, Elodie befriends it, but soon the lives of the couple are entangled with both the dog and enigmatic nexus wizard Zouhair Fox.

Soon the trio find themselves taking part in a nexus revolution that threatens to cover Africa, and perhaps the whole world.

The short novel, No Grave For A Fox, is a second fast-paced, philosophical thriller that takes the reader across the globe through a post-oil world of danger, surprise and possibility.

“…a thrilling chase across a ravaged Europe, a burgeoning North Africa and balkanised US, interleaving excellent action set-pieces with fascinating philosophising on the nature of consciousness. A gripping read to the poignant last line.” The Guardian, on Beautiful Intelligence

“A bracingly imaginative novel… a rich, complex vision of a relatively near future which in some ways is familiar, in others, startlingly alien… a work which looks to a diverse global future with excitement and verve.” Gary Dalkin, Amazing Stories, on Beautiful Intelligence

“Palmer is a writer of unique and remarkable imagination.” Teresa Edgerton, SFF Chronicles

 

Muezzinland: the author’s edition by Stephen Palmer

Muezzinland: the author's edition by Stephen PalmerAvailable in print and ebook formats, 20 December 2015
http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/book.php?book=spamuez

Ebook: : Amazon US – Amazon UK – Barnes and Noble – Kobo – Apple – Smashwords

Print (ISBN: 1519391862): Amazon US – Amazon UK – CreateSpace – and other booksellers

Two sisters on the run, both pursued by their mother. But when this mother is the Empress of Ghana and one of the most powerful people in the world, it is no ordinary chase. And life has changed in the mid twenty second century. The aether is a telepathic cyberspace. Biochips augment human brains. AIs, concepts, even symbols can be dangerous.

Mnada is heir to the Ghanaian throne, yet something has been done to her brain that has made her insane, something to send her fleeing north across jungle and desert towards the mysterious place called Muezzinland.

Nshalla is relegated to the status of puppet, ignored, yet also part of her mother’s plan; she follows her sister’s flight, determined to discover the truth behind Muezzinland.

And the Empress herself, possessing the most modern technology with which to recapture her daughters – androids, morphic tools, orbital stations, all powered by a ruthless will. But not even she can predict what might happen should the family be reunited, least of all if it is inside Muezzinland…

Set in a vivid and fascinating future, Muezzinland is a tour de force of the imagination from the author of Beautiful Intelligence and No Grave for a Fox.

An earlier version of this novel was first published in 2003. This 2015 edition is the author’s preferred text.

“…a tour de force in imagining possibilities that lie beyond our information age… If you enjoy the full immersion experience of neo-magic, you’ll [like] Muezzinland.” Gwyneth Jones, New York Review Of SF

“…succeeds when many other similar attempts to fuse the mythic and the modern fail… in Muezzinland, the hybrid thrives, creating a compelling and cohesive vision… It’s an unusual and successful combination.” Matrix

“While the plot can be read as a relatively straightforward thriller, the book as a whole is considerably more than this. It succeeds in integrating the elements of myth and high technology, producing something of a hybrid that feels right.” Vector

 

Details of all infinity plus books can be found at http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/


New: A Restless Wind by Shahrukh Husain

arestlesswind-fbgraphic

restlesswind-ebook-coverZara Hamilton leads an apparently charmed life as a human rights lawyer in London – but she is haunted by questions about her past. Why did her mother disappear? What made her college sweetheart, the Maharaja of Trivikrampur, abandon her? Why did her husband renege on a plan to return to her native India? And why has she avoided visiting her much-loved family home in Qila, Trivikrampur? After ten years as a Muslim in Britain, bereft of a homeland, Zara finally seeks the answers. When she returns to Qila, her world is shatteringly different, her aristocratic family mired in complications and far-right politics on the rise. Amid the unrest of a changing nation, Zara seeks the key to her mother’s secret as contemporary resentments clash with a harmonious past.

Buy this ebook from: Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon Canada – FREE on Kindle Unlimited

Buy this book in print (ISBN: 1515075699): Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon CanadaCreateSpace – and other booksellers
~
A Restless Wind piques the reader’s interest from the very beginning with fine details and a strong and engaging protagonist.” The Deccan Herald

“A fascinating emotional narrative of an expatriate, A Restless Wind intertwines the old with the new in modern India.” Muneeza Shamsie, Newsline (Pakistan)

“When India Exotic meets India Embattled a great new transcontinental heroine is born. Husain has put the characters together with great care. But it is Zara who is the novel’s anchor and her confusion over her identity propels the plot.” Kaveree Bamzai, India Today

“One intriguing trait of Husain’s narration is its delicately filigreed details. Her descriptions are graphic, colourful and semiotically nuanced. The semiotized narrative brings home to the reader the contrasted cultural set-ups, or, in phenomenological terms, the conflicting ‘lifeworlds’ that the different characters in the novel inhabit.” Arnab Bhattacharya, The Telegraph, India

~
Shahrukh Husain writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults. She has written four themed retellings of folklore and myth for Virago and worked on scripts commissioned by Merchant-Ivory and Buena Vista among others. Currently, she is developing TV projects for SKY, KUDOS and BENDIT FILMS while working on her second novel.

She is a practising analytical psychotherapist and has worked extensively with asylum-seekers and PTSD survivors.

She was born in Karachi, Pakistan and divides her time between northwest London and East Sussex.


The Guardian on Beautiful Intelligence

Great review of Stephen Palmer’s Beautiful Intelligence over at the Guardian: “…a thrilling chase across a ravaged Europe, a burgeoning North Africa and balkanised US, interleaving excellent action set-pieces with fascinating philosophising on the nature of consciousness. A gripping read to the poignant last line.”

Full review at the Guardian.


new: Future Perfect by Chris Evans and Roy Kettle

I love the look of this one. I’m not familiar with Roy’s work (he co-wrote several novels with John Brosnan), but I do know Chris’s writing which immediately makes this a must-read for me. The print edition is out now, with an ebook version to follow soon:

Future Perfect by Chris Evans and Roy Kettle

Amazon US / Amazon UK
Future Perfect website

Future Perfect by Chris Evans and Roy KettleNot many people knew Leo Parrish or were aware of his science-fiction stories. Even fewer people noticed when he disappeared. So why, 50 years later, is everyone looking for his work? The police, the FBI, the cult of Ascendancy, religious fanatics. And how is all this linked to President Muvart of Khanistan and his wild threats against the USA, or Ryan Carmichael, the notoriously unpredictable Hollywood star?

Nick Randall, head of Xponential Films, simply wants to make a movie based on one of Parrish’s stories. But he’s being followed, attacked, interrogated, misled. His office is burgled and his computer hacked. Being caught up in one conspiracy would be bad enough. But he seems to be involved in several. And no one wants him to find Parrish’s stories. Not even the woman he loves.

FUTURE PERFECT is a modern thriller with lots of military, scientific and political intrigue, set both in the UK and the US. Readers will have their own views as to whether it’s science fiction or not. But the world of science fiction is integral to the story from writers, magazines and political paranoia in the 1950s to modern books, TV, graphic novels, digital newszines, an international SF-related cult, a World Science Fiction Convention and even an American theme park inspired by science fiction views of the future.

“Future Perfect is a sharp, witty, ingenious conspiracy thriller set in the worlds of science fiction geekery, political chicanery and crackpot cultery that skewers real-life analogues with merciless precision while advancing unsettling notions of the way our lives have been shaped by fifty years of true believers. Roy Kettle and Chris Evans know this world from the inside, and yet open it up to the uninitiated. I enjoyed this book immensely and the alien waves penetrating my tinfoil hat convince me that you will too.” Kim Newman – journalist, film critic, and award-winning fiction writer, author of the ANNO DRACULA series.

“A dogged amateur sleuth, a trail of clues through the jungle of mid-twentieth-century pulp fiction, and a startling conspiracy theory. The revelations keep you hooked and the detail sparkles. Unmissable.” Stephen Baxter – award-winning science fiction writer, author of THE LONG WAR with Terry Pratchett.


Tomorrow… may never be the same again: New YA release by Nick Gifford

Just out: Tomorrow by Nick Gifford

Tomorrow by Nick Gifford - a young adult time-travel thrillerTomorrow: a future only you can see; a future only you can save…

When fifteen-year-old Luke’s father dies, his eccentric family threatens to descend into chaos. Luke distracts himself by helping to sort through his father’s belongings, a painful process which takes on an entirely new dimension when he discovers that his father had somehow had knowledge of events in his own future. This prescience is connected in some way to a recent spate of terrorist attacks, which would explain why security forces – and others – start to take an interest in Luke’s discovery. Just what had his father known, and why are Luke and his friends suddenly at the centre of it all?

Tomorrow: an emotion- and time-tangled thriller set in the War Against Chronological Terror.

Tomorrow: when three teenagers may have the power to save or destroy a world that is yet to be.

Praise for Nick Gifford’s work

“The king of children’s horror.” Sunday Express

“Another great teen thriller.” Spot On

“Ingenious … this chilling story reads with all the power and demented logic of a thoroughly bad dream.” The Independent

“A contemporary thriller with overtones of Orwell and Huxley about it.” Rhyl Journal

“A story that genuinely chills and chafes at ethical and moral certainty… Erased is a real romp of a read. That it equips readers with an awareness of the mechanics of inhumanity must be a step towards ensuring history’s mistakes are not repeated.”Achukareviews

“An exceptional new talent in children’s literature … a bold, shocking and completely unputdownable horror story.” Waterstone’s Books Quarterly

“The pacing and plotting in this novel are superb. Twists and surprises occur at unpredictable intervals. And the ending is a blend of hope and menace … achieves a level of excellence equivalent to one of Ramsey Campbell’s books, neither condescending to his youthful readers nor slighting his adult ones. Now, that’s a truly scary accomplishment!” Asimov’s SF Magazine

“Guaranteed to scare your socks off.” Glasgow Herald

Buy this ebook from: Amazon US – Amazon UK

Buy this book in print: Amazon US – Amazon UK – CreateSpace

Now in print: Nowhere To Go by Iain Rowan

Nowhere to Go by Iain RowanNow available in a stylish trade paperback: Iain Rowan’s Nowhere To Go collects together stories previously published in Alfred Hitchcocks’ Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and other top magazines and anthologies, and includes the Derringer Award-winning short story “One Step Closer”.

Recently shortlisted for a Spinetingler award for Best Short Story Collection, Nowhere To Go is available in ebook and print editions from:

Trade paperback
CreateSpace ($10.99)
amazon.com ($10.99)
amazon.co.uk (£6.99)
Ebook
amazon.com (Kindle format, $2.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.99)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $2.99)

“A short story writer of the highest calibre.”
— Allan Guthrie, author of Top Ten Kindle Bestseller Bye Bye Baby, winner of Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year


Great review for Iain Rowan’s One Of Us

Lovely review of Iain Rowan’s CWA Debut Dagger-shortlisted novel, One of Us:

“enough satisfying twists and turns to satisfy any crime fan… An excellent novel”
http://indieebookreview.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/one-of-us-by-iain-rowan/

One of Us is available from:
CreateSpace (paperback $11.99)
Amazon US (paperback $11.99)
Amazon UK (paperback £14.99)
Book Depository (paperback £7.45 – cheapest UK option we’ve found!)
amazon.com (Kindle format, $2.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.99)


One Of Us: an extract

One of Us by Iain RowanAnna is one of the invisible people. She fled her own country when the police murdered her brother and her father, and now she serves your food, cleans your table, changes your bed, and keeps the secrets of her past well hidden.

When she used her medical school experience to treat a man with a gunshot wound, Anna thought it would be a way to a better life. Instead, it leads to a world of people trafficking, prostitution, murder and the biggest decision of Anna’s life: how much is she prepared to give up to be one of us?

Shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award, here’s an extract from One of Us by award-winning writer Iain Rowan.

CHAPTER ONE

Twelve months more of medical school, back in my country, and I would have been a doctor. Here, I scrape grease from a stained griddle under buzzing lights, while drunks stagger and shout on the other side of the counter. When they vomit on the tiled floor, I have to clear it up, with a metal bucket and a mop that is falling apart. Maybe this is not so different to a hospital on a Saturday night. Thinking this helps, sometimes.

Before the burger bar I worked in a cheap hotel, stripping stained sheets and emptying ashtrays for three pounds an hour until the assistant manager came and closed the door behind him, and smiled while he undid his belt. If the old couple had not returned to argue about who had left their theatre tickets behind, I do not know what would have happened. Or rather, I do.

Before the hotel I scrubbed left-overs that were worth more than I was from dishes in a restaurant, and before that I shivered on the streets for four nights that lasted a year. Before that was a boat, and before that, days in the back of a lorry. Even now, if I smell lemons I also smell diesel and fear. Before that was another lorry, and before that another city, and before that was the day that the policemen beat my brother to death, and dragged my father away to die in a prison cell, and I heard it all from the cupboard under the stairs, shivering behind an ironing board with my fist stuck in my mouth to stop my screams from coming out.

So I scoured grills, and burnt my hands, and I wiped half-chewed chips from plastic tables. No-one asked me for any papers, the work paid me money in my hand, and the money paid for a bed in a room in a hostel. I shared the room with three other women, and a small bathroom and kitchen with everyone who lived on the same floor, but there was a bed for me, and there was a lock on the door, and after the four nights on the streets that was enough.

Alice came from Kenya. She worked very early in the morning, cleaning in a hotel. She had a picture of a beautiful child stuck to the wall next to her bed. At night she touched it with her fingers as if she was touching the child’s face, and she cried without making any noise. Safeta was Kosovan, and she worked in a laundry, washing and drying a thousand sheets that a hundred Alices stripped from beds every morning. She smelt of the laundry, a clean and nice smell, but her hands were always red and she bled from around her fingernails. Sally was English but she was also a drunk. I do not know what she did in the daytime but at night she just slumped on a couch in the common room of the hostel, drinking cheap wine and staring through the television into a world beyond. Sometimes she had bruises and what looked like bite marks all over her arms.

If I lived there for too long I would go mad, and end up sitting with Sally by the television, pulling at my hair or picking at scabs on my arms. But without the proper legal documentation I could not get a better job, and without a better job I could not make more money, and without more money I could not live anywhere other than the hostel.

I could not go back; it was not safe for me. Even if things changed I could not go back. Would not go back. I could not live with so many ghosts. So I am here.

I save as much as I can from the endless nights in the burger bar to buy some papers that will say that I am legal. I do not want to do this, because I want to be a good citizen, and because the men who deal in the false papers remind me of the men at home: they do everything with a swagger that says that anything that gets in their way will be beaten out of it. I do not want to deal with them.

But I do not want to go back.

Daniel was not one of those men, but he worked for them. He was all smiles and loves and sweethearts and he laid his hand on my arm as if he were my friend. Safeta knew a Kosovan who would not deal with me, but he gave me a phone number, and I rang it and spoke to an English man who did not give me his name, not then. I met him three days later in a busy coffee bar at the railway station. He was tall and slim, and the way that his black hair fell loose over his forehead made me think of a boy that I had known in school.

“I’m Daniel, sweetheart,” the man grinned. “Just Daniel.” He sat opposite me, sipping at his coffee, smiling at me a lot and looking at me a lot, and asking me questions about what I wanted. The cafe smelt of coffee and warm pastries. Daniel asked me why I did not have a drink.

“Because I do not want one,” I said.

“Don’t have the money for it, more like,” he said, shaking his head. “Come on, don’t lie to me, sweetheart. How can I trust you if you lie to me? And I want to trust you, really I do.” He leaned over, rested his hand on mine for a moment, just a moment, and then took it away.

“I cannot tell a lie,” I said. “It is because they use Robusta beans for this coffee, and I prefer Arabica. I am fussy that way.”

He smiled, a perfect white smile that I could tell he had practised on many girls before. I thought that it would usually have worked too, that and the way he held eye contact just that little bit longer than necessary. Once, it maybe could have worked on me. But not now. I was too tired, too busy just living, for anything like that. “So if you can’t even afford a cup of this slop, how exactly were you planning on paying me?”

“That is why I do not drink the coffee,” I said. “It is why I do not buy newspapers, or cans of cola, or anything except for rent and food. So I can save the money, so I can get what I need.”

He liked my answer, because he laughed a lot and bought me a cup of coffee and told me that he liked my spirit. He asked me where I came from.

“I come from North Ossetia,” I said, and Daniel made a face and shrugged.

“Russia,” I said. “To most people here, just Russia.”

“Don’t think I know it,” Daniel said.

“You won’t,” I said. Most people do not, and to them it is all just Russia and Russians. The one thing that people know about my country is the school called School Number One. This school was in a town called Beslan. But I do not like to talk about what happened there. “My home was in a city called Vladikavkaz.”

“I know that name,” Daniel said. “Why do I know that?”

It was my turn to shrug. When I did, I caught him looking at how my breasts moved under my sweatshirt. He gave a little grin of no apology but an acknowledgement that he had been caught.

“Think United played there once, didn’t they, mid-Nineties?”

I folded my arms, and then shrugged again, I am not here for small talk, do I look like a woman who cares what United did? Anyway, it was Liverpool, and we lost to them. Aleksey took me, kept threatening to embarrass me by holding my hand when we were walking to the stadium.

“So what did you do Anna, back in Vladiwhatever.”

“I was a medical student,” I said. “I was studying to be a doctor.”

“Were you now,” said Daniel, and he did not seem very interested in talking about it, because all that was past and gone, so I did not say anything else. I remembered when I was at school, studying hard for exams. I was sat at the kitchen table, my books spread everywhere, a cup of tea gone cold, when my father came in. He stood and watched me for a moment, not saying anything.

“How’s it going?” he said in the end.

“Lots to do,” I said. “And I’m tired, can I not—”

“No,” he said. “You can not.”

“But I haven’t—”

“You don’t need to. Listen Anna, your schoolwork is important. You pass these exams, as I know you can, and there will be a place in the Medical Academy and you will be a doctor, Anna. Think of that, a doctor.”

“I know,” I said, sulking because I wanted to be a doctor but I also wanted to be out with my friends. “But—”

“If your mother could see you a doctor,” he sighed. “She would be so proud.”

And that was the end of that. I could not argue any more, because I knew that he was right. She would have been.

My father placed a hand on my shoulder.

“Study hard, Anna. I know I seem like a tyrant. But my daughter, a doctor. I will be so proud, too, to see you do something with your life. Something better than I do.”

I stared down at my books.

“Yes,” he said in the end. “Well, dog won’t feed itself.” And he stomped off, out of the kitchen, and I went back to my work because I wanted so much to pass those exams, but it was hard to concentrate when my vision was so blurred.

Daniel bought me another cup of coffee even though I said no, and then he named a price that I could not afford.

“I do not have that much,” I said. “Not nearly that much.” Can you not tell, I thought. Look at me, look at these jeans, which cost less than I would once have spent on a pair of tights. Look at these hands, with their bitten nails and their red marks from hot grease. Once, everyone in this place would have looked when I walked in. Now, they probably think that I am staff, on a break.

He shrugged, flicked his hair away from his forehead. “You’ve got a problem then. I really do want to help you sweetheart, but that’s the price. I’ll throw the coffees in for free. You’ve got my mobile number. Phone me when you have the money. We’ll do business.”

“It will take me a long time,” I said. “When I pay for food and rent, there is not much left to save.”

“Girls manage,” he said, “they find ways,” and he gave me a long look over his smile. I went back to work, and ate food that customers had left so that I could save more money, and I slept, and I did not do much else.

~

A month later I was working the evening shift again, slapping a mop around the floor in front of the counter and trying to replace the stink of vomit with the smell of bleach. Rain rattled against steamed-up windows. Sean slouched at the till, deep in a library book about ancient Rome. The week before, it had been a library book about astronomy. His obsessions changed with the weather.

I met Sean on my first day at Peter’s restaurant. Peter handed me my uniform of bright red shirt and itchy grey trousers, and told me that he was going to be very busy in the office, so one of the team would show me how everything worked.

“Sean,” he said. “This is Anna. Show her the ropes, will you?”

A tall, thin man with scruffy hair that wasn’t the colour of anything in particular took an awkward step forward, like a heron. He held out his hand, and I went to meet it but my own hands were in my pockets and by the time I got one out he had blushed and dropped his hand, thinking that I did not want to shake hands, and then when I did hold my hand out again, he had put his in his pockets. He said, “Oh, sorry,” and blushed again.

“Sean,” he said. “Um.” He waved a hand around the kitchen. “I work here. Good to have you around, we’re short on staff. Sorry, don’t mean that it’s only good to have you here because we need just anybody, it’s good to have you here as um, you.” He tailed off, coughed, scratched at an eyebrow. “Right. Anna, yeah?”

“Yes, I am still Anna.”

I regretted it when I said it, because I thought that he would be offended, and I did not want to offend this shy man who I would have to work with. But he did not look offended, he laughed.

“Good. Be a bit scary if you were someone else, really. Let’s start again and give the comedy routine a miss.” He smiled, and held out his hand again, and I thought: there is more to this man than there seems. Sean became the closest thing I had to a friend. He was well-educated, I think that he too had been to university, but he never spoke of it, and only ever talked of many dead-end jobs like this one. There was often a sadness in his eyes and sometimes his hands shook and shook until he put them in his pockets and clenched his fists very tight and I pretended that I had not noticed.

I plunged the mop into the water that was already dirty, and slopped it onto the floor because I was too tired to go and change the water. The door banged open and I felt cold air and then somebody standing near me, so I concentrated on mopping in circles around my feet, not wanting to look up, to have to see a leer and allow the chance for a conversation to start with a middle-aged man running to fat who did not often get the chance to talk to twenty-five-year-old girls running to skinny. I tried just to be a piece of furniture, without age, without sex, nothing to look at of interest. Since I had left my country, I had much practice at this. Not that it made much difference to many men. I was a woman, and so I was fair game. I could have worn a potato sack and not washed my hair for a month, and it would have made no difference to some.

“Forgot which burger place you said you worked in, didn’t I,” a voice said. “Fifth one I’ve been in. I’m getting soaked, and I’m sick of chips.”

It was Daniel. He grinned at my surprise, like a child who had just performed his first magic trick. I did not know what to say so I did not say anything. I do not want to talk to you, I thought. Not now anyway, when my hair needs a wash, and I am sweating into this stupid shiny red blouse that reflected the lights on to my face and made me look like I was blushing.

“So, this is your office,” he said. Peter came out from the kitchen and frowned at the sight of someone standing talking and not buying, but he dropped a cardboard box of plastic cups behind the counter, grunted at Sean to put the damn book down and follow him, and stomped away again. Peter was the manager of the burger restaurant. He made me think of a bear in the zoo at home, he was hairy and he growled, and whenever he came into a room it looked smaller. Sometimes he was kind, sometimes his temper scared me. I forgave him that, though. He gave me a job, without asking for papers or identity cards, and he paid me on time, and he did not try to touch me. He looked sometimes, but he never did more than that, and that is no more than most other men that I have known and it is much less than many others.

“What do you want?” I said to Daniel. “Why have you come looking for me? I do not have the money yet.”

“Got some good news for you on the money side of things, sweetheart,” he said. “You come with me now, but no messing around, it has to be right now, just do one little job, and you get a new identity, the full works, all the papers. Real, not fake, people on the inside, worth ten times what I quoted you for a knocked-together one. Make you one of us, as legit as me.”

“A job?” I said. “I am already working in a job.” I slapped the mop down on the floor. “And you are messing it up with your wet feet.”

“Is that what you call this?” he said, looking around. “A job? Must have been desperate, where you came from.”

“Yes,” I said. “It was.”

I said it with more anger than I had meant to let out, and Daniel did not know quite what to say.

“Yeah, sorry, whatever.” He flicked hair from out of his eyes, and did not look very sorry at all. “Listen, man I work for, he needs your services for the night. But we have to go now, or not at all.”

I shook my head, backed away, holding the mop handle out as if it would protect me. “Fuck off,” I said.

“Didn’t put that well, did I?” He laughed but he was nervous, I could see it in the way that he shifted from foot to foot. “It’s not what you think, sweetheart. Christ, I’m not a pimp. It’s your medical skills, not your beautiful body, that Corgan’s after. But you have approximately, oh, fuck all seconds at all to make up your mind. I mean it, the car’s outside, you come now, do this little job, you get your papers, the works, make you more legal than the queen. Trust me, Corgan can help you go places. He’ll help you, and me bringing you to him will make me look good. We both win, see? Besides, you really, really don’t want to piss him off.”

“What do you mean, medical skills? I was only a student, I—”

“Close enough. You studied hard, didn’t you? Read all the books? Two minutes,” he said. “Up to you. I’ll be right in the shit if you don’t, but hey, it’s your call.” The door banged behind him. I stood for a moment, watching the floor dry to a dull smear. I thought about waiting for my number to be called, for yet another interview. I thought of the noise my brother had made when they were kicking him. I had seen a horse fall once, and break its leg. We were staying out in the country, at my uncle’s house, and my brother and I had been playing in the field. A woman had been riding a horse, hard. It was beautiful to watch, it raced the length of the field with power and grace. Then one foot must have gone into a hole left by a rabbit, and the horse came down in a tangle of legs that were now too long for it, the woman pitched over its head and onto the ground, and we heard the horse’s leg break from where we were standing. The rider staggered to her feet after a moment or two, cursing, but the horse rolled about on the ground, and I put my hands over my ears but I could still hear its terrible squealing. My father and uncle came rushing out. My father led me back to the house, made me tea and held me tight while I cried. He held my head tight against his big chest, and it was only that evening I realised that he held me this way on purpose so I would not hear the shot.

Late that night, when he and my uncle got drunk, and I was supposed to be asleep, I heard my uncle complaining about the woman who had been riding the horse.

“A beautiful animal,” he said. “I had to shoot the wrong one.”

When the men kicked my brother to death, he made a noise like the horse did. And I put my hands over my ears then too, but I could still hear the terrible sound he made.

I walked out into the kitchen and told Peter that I was sick, I had to go home.

“Sick? What the hell do you mean sick?” Peter tugged at his beard, as he always did when something came along that upset the smooth running of things. I often thought that when we had a health inspection at the restaurant, the thing that would get us closed down would be Peter’s beard.

“I mean vomiting. I think I have a stomach flu. There is diarrhoea too, I think, I need to go very bad.”

“Jesus, spare me the details. Don’t want to catch it either.”

“I can manage fine on my own Pete,” Sean said. “It’s not exactly busy. Tuesday, quiet night.” He frowned at me, from behind the coffee machine, his face a question I could not answer.

“Go on then, get yourself away Anna, before you give it to me. It’s coming out of your wages though; if you’re not here I’m not paying you.”

Daniel was waiting in a dark blue car, talking on a mobile phone. When I came near he finished the call, and leaned over to open the passenger door.

“Good girl. You’ve just saved my life. Already told ’em you were coming, had faith in you.”

I got in, and he drove away fast, looking in his mirror a lot. We drove down wet streets that shone orange on black, and I thought, this is how a life changes. A stupid decision, a moment where what you want so badly wins over what sense tells you, and then you are in a strange car, driving in the night and you do not know what waits for you at the other end. I thought of girls from my home, who had wanted so much, and so had gone on journeys across Europe without asking too many questions. And I thought about where they ended up. Because I knew this. I knew this very well.

I closed my eyes for a moment. Then I thought, this is stupid, because when you open them again, nothing will have changed. So I did, and it hadn’t.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Onwards and upwards, Anna, onwards and upwards.”

I did not see the point in asking any more, because I knew that I would not get an answer. We stopped at a quiet row of old houses. They had once been grand, I think, but now next to each front door a rash of bell pushes showed how the houses had been divided and divided and divided, and the sagging curtains at the windows looked as if they would not be opened in the mornings.

“Here we are,” Daniel said, and I could hear the tension in his voice.

“Here we are for what?” I said, but I knew that it was too late to ask the question. Whatever I was here to do, I would have to do. I felt sick.

Daniel did not answer. He got out of the car, then walked around to my door.

“Come on, it’s this one,” he said, and we walked up a cracked concrete path. Daniel used a key to open the front door, and I followed him in. The hallway was lit by a single dusty bulb that hung without a shade. A table inside the door overflowed with free newspapers and junk mail. A pay phone hung above the table. Someone had patterned the wall all the way around the phone with cigarette burns. Daniel walked up the creaking stairs, and I followed him. I could smell burnt food, and cigarette smoke, and sweat. We stopped on the first floor, and Daniel paused in front of a wooden door that was all pits and splinters.

“Keep your mouth shut,” he said in a low voice. “Keep your eyes on what you’re doing, say nothing. Just do what you’re told, and it’ll be fine. Promise you, sweetheart.” He tapped on the door. It opened a fraction straight away, as if someone had been standing there all along, and I saw a shadow inside. Then the door opened all the way, and Daniel put a hot hand in the small of my back, and I walked in to get away from it.

A man with an expensive suit stretched over big shoulders leaned against the wall by the door. He looked me up and down with the cold eyes of a shark. I could smell violence on him, like sweat. Another man lay on a bed, naked from the waist up, with a sheet wrapped round and round his arm. The sheet was stained dark red in the middle. The room stank of whisky, and an empty bottle lay on the floor by the side of the bed.

“This it?” the big man said, and it took me a moment before I realised that he was talking about me.

“Yeah,” Daniel said. “Don’t worry, Corgan, she’s cool.”

“Oh, thanks Danny boy,” Corgan said. “If you say not to worry, that’s OK then. I’ll stop worrying.”

Daniel looked as if he wanted to speak, but he did not.

Corgan said, “You waiting for something?”

Daniel walked off without a word.

Corgan reached out a hand and slammed the door shut. Then he turned the key. He was no taller than me, but he was wide, powerful, and a man who would never be afraid to use that power.

He looked at me for a long time and I felt like a fish on a slab in the market. “Well,” he said in the end. “Here’s our new doctor.”

…continues in One Of Us by Iain Rowan (available in ebook and print editions)


Free for two days: Iain Rowan’s Spinetingler-nominated Nowhere To Go, 5/6 April

Nowhere to Go by Iain RowanWhat: a whole collection of crime and suspense fiction for free, you say?

And it contains a winner of the Derringer Award for short fiction? And the original story that formed the basis for a novel shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award?

And it’s just been shortlisted for Spinetingler magazine’s Best Short Story Collection Award?

Ah… I see what you’re doing. You’ve made it free in the hope that lots of people will download it and then vote for it in the Spinetingler awards. And then maybe go on and buy a copy of that Debut Dagger-shortlisted novel, which is just out in print and ebook editions.

*

Okay.

It’s a fair cop. That’s exactly what we’ve done.

An award-shortlisted collection containing award-winning fiction, for free, so you can read it and decide whether you’d like to reward this really rather good author with your vote, and maybe then go on and buy more of his work.

Seems like a pretty good offer to me.

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