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