Authors: Alex Blackmore
Witnessing a dramatic death at London's Waterloo Station triggers a series of events that shatter Eva Scott's world. Dying words uttered on the station concourse awaken a history she had thought long buried. But the past is about to be resurrected, in all its brutal reality.
Soon, Eva's life is out of her hands. A genetic key is keeping her alive; but foreshadowing her death. People she loved and lost materialise and then disappear, testing the limits of her sanity. Inextricably linked to her survival is the potential takedown of an economic power, on which hang the lives of many others.
The only way out is through. But Eva's life is no longer her own. And it's killing her.
About the Author
Alex Blackmore gained an LLB and LPC in Law at Nottingham University and went on to practice as a finance lawyer in the City.
After five years in the world of corporate finance and banking, she moved into legal and financial writing and editing before becoming a freelancer full time.
She runs a copywriting business and a fashion retail website championing new designers, and lives in North London.
For John, Vicky, Pippa and B.
With special thanks to my family who have listened, supported and been there on repeat. Thanks to Henning Mankell for taking the time to get to know Eva and providing feedback on my writing, as well as being an inspiration. To everyone at No Exit for bringing the book into being, especially Ion, Claire and CQ, and Jem for the digital skills. Thanks to Annette for tireless support and enthusiasm and Steven for perceptive and intelligent editing. To Jill for showing me a Ceret sunrise and Anna for the therapeutic phone calls and generally being an awesome woman. Thanks also to some of the finest human beings in existence: Jacinta, Emily, JP, Christophe, Katie, Bea, Helen, Adam and Leora who have, at various points, provided exactly what I needed to take a next step, sometimes without even knowing they're doing it. And finally, the pup, who cannot read or write, but who has kept me sane and down to earth, mostly by eating my favourite shoes.
Eva drew back
from the dying man. His breath was hot on her face, the grip he had on her wrist was tight, but she knew that he had just moments left.
Her heart was beating fast â too fast â and the adrenaline pumping through her body made her muscles burn.
There was now a large crowd of onlookers â it was Waterloo Station at rush hour â but no one else had stepped forward. People just stood and watched, texting or tweeting what was unfolding before their eyes, one eye on the departure boards. Don't miss that train.
The man had collapsed only moments before. Almost in front of Eva as she ran from a tube train to a bus that would take her to the pub after an unforgiving day. For a split second she had almost swerved round him but the look in the man's eyes â the terror â stopped her in her tracks.
âAre you ok?' she had said, breathlessly, as she tried not to stumble under the man's weight. His eyes had rolled up towards the ceiling before settling on her once again as he tried to speak. His breath smelled of stale alcohol and he had the unmistakable odour of someone who had not been under a shower for weeks. But he was still alive. Just.
âAre you ok?' she had said, again, lowering the man to the cold, hard floor, requiring all her strength to prop up at least 180 pounds of bodyweight. Her muscles shook from the effort. No one helped. It was easy to see why the flock of commuters around her kept their distance. The man had string tied around his waist where the belt to his stained raincoat should be. His hat, now on the floor, was full of holes, and frayed at the brim. Eva could see a sock through the toe of one of his shoes.
Finally, she managed to gently lay him on the floor, took off her scarf and folded it, trying to make him a pillow. She heard mutterings in the crowd â âshould we call the police?' âtramps, I'm so sick of them' âthis problem is getting worse' â and she saw a flicker of what looked like shame cross the man's face. He looked at her, eyes suddenly lucid and clear.
âKolychak,' he whispered firmly.
What was that â Russian? Czech?
âI'm sorry I don't understand.'
,' he said again. And then louder, but still whispered, âKOLYCHAK.'
He made a sudden grab for the front of Eva's coat and pulled her face next to his.
he said fervently and tears started to fall from his eyes.
Somewhere in Eva's mind, recognition flared. But she couldn't reach it.
âI don't understand. Can you tell me who you are, what's happened to you? We need to get you some help.'
Suddenly, the man let out an ear-piercing shriek that echoed around the station hall. Every person in the enormous space stopped; most turned to face the direction from which the unearthly sound had come.
Eva pulled herself away, stumbled, fell and then sat and stared at him in horror. The noise made her blood run completely cold.
Then the man began to buck and writhe, as if someone was extracting his insides with a toasting fork. No one else moved. Liquid began to bubble and froth at his mouth. It had a bluish tinge. Abruptly, he stopped choking. His body became completely rigid, his eyes wide. Finally, he was still.
Eva heard her heartbeat thumping in her ears. She stared at the man on the floor. Reaching out a shaking hand, she felt his wrist for a pulse. Nothing.
âShit, is he ok?' asked one of her fellow commuters. She looked at him for several seconds.
When she reached the pub â a âhistoric' site just off High Holborn â she walked up to the ground floor bar and ordered a straight shot of brandy. She had barely reacted to the dying man at the time â the desire for flight had been too strong â but now she felt shaky and unsettled. Her friends, she knew, were in the bar upstairs in an area reserved for some birthday or other but she needed five minutes alone. Not that she would have it here. Even though it was only a Tuesday night, seething crowds had descended on the City and the man to her left appeared to be planning an imminent introduction. She turned away from him, looked out at the room around her and finished her drink.
âDo you have a cigarette machine?' she asked the barman.
âNo, love. There's a supermarket round the corner though.'
By the time Eva returned to the pub, she was 20 minutes late for the party but still she didn't go upstairs. She bought herself another brandy from the bar and leaned against the wall outside the building. She smoked three cigarettes in a row. After that, she felt pretty awful.
âThere you are! We thought you weren't coming!'
Three of Eva's friends tumbled out of the pub door, rosy cheeked from booze and laughing. Behind them came Sam, the man who had most recently shared Eva's bed. She looked at him and he smiled. She smiled back but there was no stomach flip.
She made her excuses for being late but when she tried to tell the story of the man on the floor at Waterloo words failed her. She tried again when Sam went to the bar but she couldn't. Ok, she reasoned eventually, why ruin their night with something she wanted to forget anyway. Sam returned with the drinks and then was at her side. He took her hand. She freed it to light a cigarette.
âYou're smoking?' He raised his light eyebrows towards a shock of blond hair.
She nodded and smiled. âBad day.'
He gave her a hug. âGo on, give me one too then,' he whispered in her ear.
She pulled back and then handed over the slim white cigarette and watched him try not to smoke it like a non-smoker.
Conversations in the group continued as one, and then two, more cigarettes were smoked to avoid a return to the cold for an hour at least. Then, the others drifted back inside. Sam pulled at her hand but she remained planted against the wall.
âAre you ok?'
He came and stood opposite her, put his arms around her waist and stepped forward so that their faces were close.
âI'm fine.' She could feel that she was rigid in his arms. You're still adjusting to being in a relationship, she told herself. It's not him, it's you.
He kissed her. âSee you upstairs,' he said and walked back into the pub smiling at her over his shoulder, attracting admiring glances as he went.
Eva turned the other way and leaned sideways against the wall. Her head hurt.
The word the man at the station had uttered was circling round and round her mind:
. It was maddening.
She didn't understand, she had never even seen him before. But she couldn't forget what he had said â the incident had shaken her more deeply than it should.
She felt her phone vibrate in her bag and, grateful for the distraction from her thoughts, dug it out.
The display showed two words, starkly white against the blood red background she had chosen as a screensaver:
When she arrived at her flat that night, Eva double locked her front door and drew the chain across â something she never really did, despite living in one of the more âup and coming' neighbourhoods of London.
Once inside, she stood with her back to the door and took several deep breaths.
As soon as she had seen that name on the display of her phone, Eva had started to run. She wasn't sure where the instinct came from but she hadn't even picked up the call. In fact, she had dropped her phone and had to rush after it as it skittered towards the edge of the kurb. A bus pulling up at a stop she hadn't noticed was forced to skid to a halt, the driver sounding the horn angrily. She had been shocked, unaware of the peril so close, and had snatched her phone from the gutter and continued to run.
After that, a bus opposite Holborn station transported her to Camden, where she decided to walk home. On the way, a supermarket stop: a bottle of wine, another packet of cigarettes â a tin of tomato soup as an afterthought.
She'd made the journey home on autopilot. In her head the words âkolychak' and âJackson' revolved mercilessly.
Jackson was her brother â her dead brother.
She had last seen that caller ID 13 months ago before she had journeyed to Paris and then Paraguay to try to find out what had happened to him. It had been a reckless, dangerous trip â and one that had nearly cost her her life â but she was still none the wiser about the circumstances of his death. Or who it was who had called her from his phone the last time, and why.
For 13 months she hadn't had to think about it.
Eva moved away from the door and dropped her purchases on the sofa. She noticed she was shaking.
She walked quickly into the bedroom and stripped off her clothes, shivering in the cold air of the spacious flat. She should learn how to set the timer on the heating. She pulled on a pair of running leggings, sports bra and a fluorescent lightweight running top. She tied her long, dark hair back into a ponytail and secured it loosely with a tattered elastic band. It swished from side to side as she walked back through the flat, collected her phone, headphones and keys, slammed the front door behind her and made for the street.
Outside, it was dark and the street was quieter than when she arrived home several minutes earlier. She lived in an area where âpeople like her' had chosen to put down roots because it was well connected, up and coming but the rent wasn't yet eye-wateringly expensive. It suited her â it was a cheapish taxi fare home and there were great local pubs. She had been unable to stay in her old flat in Camden as the memories there were too overwhelming.
Outside, she walked for several minutes as she connected her headphones, selected a playlist on her iPhone and then began to run. Her feet pounded the pavements and, gradually, as she settled into a rhythm, she began to relax.
She could think clearly for the first time that day.
Jackson. Jackson was dead. Even before she had gone to Paris 13 months ago to try and follow in his footsteps, she and her father had been told Jackson was dead â a fatal gunshot wound to the head, apparently by his own hand.
By the time Eva returned from Paris, she knew her brother had been working for the government and that he may or may not have been tortured to death. Ultimately, no one â not Irene Hunt, Jackson's handler, or even Daniel â could confirm or deny whether her brother was still alive. As she thought of Daniel, she felt her fists clench. He had been a friend of Jackson's at school â a privileged and manipulative boy who had grown into a violent and cruel man. She had encountered him on her first few nights in Paris. He had casually assaulted her when she needed his help. But that was not the only part he had played.
With the calculated cool of a sociopath, Daniel had driven development of a virus that he had planned to release to create a market for a new drug. In the end, his âpeople' â the Association for the Control of Regenerative Networking â had found his greed made him dispensable. He became a liability and so he was killed. Even now, Eva could remember the look on Daniel's face in the moment that the shot exploded his skull; she could still smell the metallic odour of his blood on her skin.
She stopped running as she realised she had said the name aloud. She quickly picked up her pace again and continued moving almost soundlessly through the dark streets, her wraith-like figure flitting in and out of lamplights at a steady pace.
She had received several similar calls from her already dead brother in Paris but had never been able to figure out who had made them. Since his death, Jackson had existed only as a caller ID on a smartphone screen â not the Jackson she knew, or even a tangible pretender. Then for 13 months he had been silent. But now someone somewhere wanted her to believe that he was still alive.
âHow do you invade a country without an army?'
âBut you just saidâ¦'
âAn invasion does not have to involve movements of troops.'
âThen I'm not sure I understand.'
The conversation was taking place in the hushed environs of a thickly carpeted Geneva hotel lobby. It was casual, the two participants apparently uninvested. But the first was better informed about the second than the second man would be comfortable with â if he knew.
âEngland is a nation of shopkeepers.'
âHe was a wise man.'
âHe died a prisoner.'
Two tiny white coffee cups with shimmering gold rims were deposited onto the table between the two men by a crisp suited waitress, who departed in silence. Both cups were left untouched.
âYour intentions are unclear. I think you have obtained this meeting under false pretences.'
âMy intentions are the same as yours.'
âNo, what I mean is I do not understand why you have come to
âBecause I believe I have what you're looking for.' He had carefully rehearsed the line.
âAnd what might that be?'
âThe key you need.'
âI do not need a key.'
The air around the two men was becoming hostile. That one could know anything about the other was inconceivable to him. And a threat. The particles bristled as the conversation continued.
âYou have no idea who I am,' deflecting the threat.
âI know everything about you.'
âThatâ¦ is not possible.'
One of the men â the younger by some decades â reached into the pocket of a cheap suit and pushed a blue memory stick across the gleaming walnut wood of the low coffee table.
The other man looked at it. He was middle aged but well kept. He had a ski tan and it was possible to see the outline of where his goggles had sat. He looked at the memory stick.
Then, he looked up at the younger man. An almost imperceptible flicker of fear passed momentarily in front of his eyes.
âYou know I will not take it.'