The Wolves of London

The brand- new novel from award- win­ning au­thor Mark Mor­ris is a grip­ping thriller with a black and twisted heart.

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Promotion - By Mark Mor­ris

When his daugh­ter is kid­napped, ex- con Alex Locke is forced back into London’s crim­i­nal un­der­world and agrees to steal a price­less arte­fact for a mys­te­ri­ous woman named Clover…

The grass, spongy from the day’s rain, ab­sorbed my foot­steps com­pletely. Not that I ex­pected any­one to hear me. Ac­cord­ing to Clover the old man was in bed by eleven ev­ery night and once his head touched the pil­low he was pretty much dead to the world. I knew the French win­dows that led into the draw­ing room were round the back, so I made my way there, scan­ning the ground ahead so that I knew ex­actly where I was putting my feet. Once the shadow of the house had fallen over me, it was almost pitch- black, only a few shreds and speck­les of light leak­ing in from the street and the sky above to give any def­i­ni­tion to my sur­round­ings. I slowed down, wor­ried about trip­ping over or into some­thing and in­jur­ing my­self. There would be noth­ing worse than mess­ing up due to my own clum­si­ness and stu­pid­ity.

I reached the French win­dows with­out mishap and felt for the lock. As soon as I had it I slot­ted in the key and turned it with a rusty creak. I pushed the metal han­dle down and the door opened eas­ily. A cou­ple of seconds later I was inside.

The room I was stand­ing in smelled of dry old car­pets and fur­ni­ture pol­ish. I couldn’t see much. There seemed to be lots of empty floor space, some items of fur­ni­ture – pos­si­bly arm­chairs – over to my right, flank­ing what I guessed was prob­a­bly a fire­place and man­tel­piece, and some­thing long and flat- topped – a bureau or a side­board – against the wall to my left. Di­rectly op­po­site the French win­dows the wall looked ex­tra- dark and oddly un­even, which puz­zled me for a sec­ond be­fore I re­alised it was a floor- to- ceil­ing book­case. Some­where in the build­ing I could hear a clock tick­ing, and there were the usual tiny creaks you get in any old house as the struc­ture set­tles and shifts. But apart from that, noth­ing. Right at that mo­ment it was hard to be­lieve I was in the mid­dle of one of the busiest ci­ties in the world.

Leav­ing the French win­dows ajar, I made my way across to what I guessed was the side­board on my left. Clover had told me that this was where the old man kept the ob­sid­ian heart, on a lit­tle vel­vet stand be­neath a glass dome. As I ap­proached it, it sud­denly oc­curred to me to won­der what I’d do if the old man had moved the heart. It was pos­si­ble, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that peo­ple had been of­fer­ing him pots of money for it. What if he’d put it in a safe, or even a safety de­posit box in the bank? Would email man blame me if I couldn’t ful­fil the task through no fault of my own? More to the point, would he carry out his threat to harm Kate?

My anx­i­ety lasted all of three seconds. I was within a cou­ple of steps of the side­board when I made out the gleam and vague shape of a glass dome. I stepped closer, try­ing to iden­tify what was be­neath it. All I could see was a fuzzy black blob, which could have been any­thing. I reached out with both hands and care­fully lifted the dome aside. De­spite what Clover had said I half- ex­pected an alarm to go off, but noth­ing hap­pened.

Although it was still too dark to see clearly, I could now tell that the ob­ject was roundish and gleam­ing dully. I reached out and picked it up, lifting it from the plinth it had been rest­ing on. It was heavy for its size and sat snugly in my palm like a slightly mis­shapen egg. It had to be what I’d come for, but I tugged the glove off my left hand with my teeth so that I could touch it with my fin­ger­tips to make sure. I was think­ing that if the old man was wor­ried some­one might try to steal the heart, he could have put a de­coy here. I felt like a blind man read­ing Braille as I ran my fin­gers over the ob­ject’s smooth, cool sur­face. I tried to pic­ture what a hu­man heart looked like, with its valves and veins

and bulges. From what I could tell this was a pretty ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Sat­is­fied that I’d got what I came for, I put the glove back on, and was about to zip the heart into my jacket pocket when I heard the creak of a floor­board be­hind me. I spun round, and a shape rushed at me out of the dark­ness. Im­me­di­ately I re­alised some­one must have been sit­ting in one of the arm­chairs by the fire, hid­den in the shad­ows, the whole time I’d been here. I could just make out a thin, stooped fig­ure wav­ing some­thing above its head – a walk­ing stick or a cane. As I turned to con­front it, the fig­ure let out a shrill, ragged screech. Then it brought the cane sweep­ing down to­wards me.

I jumped to the side and the cane smashed down on the side­board – right on to the glass dome, shat­ter­ing it to pieces. From the way he moved I could tell my at­tacker was a frail old man, so guessed it must be McCal­lum. As glass flew ev­ery­where, McCal­lum gave a grunt and the cane flew out of his hand. I heard it go slith­er­ing and clat­ter­ing away even as I was turn­ing to­wards the open French win­dows. Next thing I knew the old man had thrown him­self at me and was cling­ing on like a gi­ant spi­der. He wrapped his thin limbs around me, dig­ging his bony fin­gers into my arm and back. I tried to shake him off, but he clung on tena­ciously, hoist­ing him­self up and curl­ing his legs around mine. “Give it back!” he screeched into my ear. “Give it back!” His chin was dig­ging into my shoul­der blade. I strug­gled with him, try­ing even harder to push him off. But he just tight­ened his grip, like that bloody face- hug­ger thing in Alien. “Please… get off…” I gasped. “Give it back!” he screeched again. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I had to get him off me. I could smell his stink­ing breath, like sour milk and rot­ting fish. De­spite his strength, his body felt wrong, twisted and sinewy, the skin too thin, the bones too sharp. The eas­i­est thing would have been to give him back his prop­erty and leg it out of there, but I couldn’t do that, not with Kate’s life at stake.

Still hold­ing the heart in my hand, I brought my arm round, in­tend­ing to give him a lit­tle bash on the head with it, just enough to make him loosen his grip. But some­thing hap­pened. As the heart made con­tact with his skull, there was a sort of zing noise, and then a hor­ri­ble gristly crunch. Next thing I knew some­thing hot and wet was splat­ter­ing the side of my face and McCal­lum’s sud­denly limp body was fall­ing away from me, tum­bling to the floor.

For a few seconds I stood, pant­ing and shak­ing, not know­ing what the fuck had hap­pened. “Mr McCal­lum?” I said. “Mr McCal­lum?” He didn’t an­swer, didn’t move. He just lay there, a black heap on the car­pet.

I hes­i­tated for a cou­ple of seconds. The eas­i­est thing would have been to run off and leave him to it, but I had to see what had hap­pened, had to check whether he was okay. So I walked to the far cor­ner of the room to where I could just make out what looked like a door­way to the left of the fire­place and felt around on the wall un­til I found a light switch.

After the dark­ness the light was so bright that for a mo­ment I couldn’t see any­thing. I screwed my eyes up tight, try­ing to squint through the glare. I imag­ined neigh­bours swarm­ing to the house, at­tracted to the light like moths. I won­dered how vis­i­ble I was through the French win­dows. More to the point, I won­dered how vis­i­ble the old man was, ly­ing mo­tion­less on the car­pet.

Prob­a­bly sooner than it seemed, the glare faded enough for me to open my eyes. I blinked a cou­ple of times, then looked down at the old man.

My guts lurched. The first thing I saw was the halo of blood fan­ning out around his head. I stepped closer and saw his open eyes, al­ready glaz­ing over. Above his eyes was a neat round hole, which was where the blood was com­ing from. It looked like the sort of hole an ap­ple corer would make in a piece of fruit. How the fuck had that hap­pened? I’d only tapped him. I looked down at the ob­sid­ian heart in my gloved hand. To find out what hap­pens next, pick up The Wolves Of London, out now from Ti­tan Books ( RRP £ 7.99). Ebook also avail­able. www. ti­tan­books. com

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