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Saturday, 22 August 2015

Saturday fiction - excerpt

In October, Crooked Cat Publishing release the second novel in the ‘Avenging Cat’ series, Catacomb. This one differs from the first, in that the main protagonist, Catherine Vibrissae (Cat) isn’t featured in the beginning. This is a flashback of some three years, to explain the two NCA characters hounding Cat and Rick, Pointer and Basset, both of whom we met in Catalyst.


Prologue: Dogs of Law
Vauxhall, South London
“Rippon’s death seems a little bizarre,” I remarked over the rim of the Delft coffee-cup. I should have known better but sipped the aromatic hot black liquid anyway, then grimaced. The Superintendent’s secretary had sugared it again. “All he did was rub suntan lotion on himself – and a couple of hours later, he’s dying before everyone’s eyes.” It was a gruesome case, skin peeling off, disintegrating into body-fluids.
            “Let me explain, Alan.” Superintendent Thurston scratched his bald head. Since I’d joined SOCA, he’d used my first name; we’d been round the block together for a few years. When accompanied by anyone else, of course, I was DI Pointer. Now, he steepled his plump fingers, an old mannerism. Implicit in his tone was “Are we sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin!” So he began: “Some years ago a group of Birmingham chemists discovered a method of getting plastics to disintegrate automatically after being thrown away.”
            “Yes, but that was a long time back; I thought it wasn’t practical, lack of funding for research...?”
            Thurston nodded, setting his sallow cheeks trembling. “The invention involved dyes which, when added to plastics, caused them to break down under the action of sunlight’s ultra-violet rays.”
            “Though this was before the ozone layer depletion crisis? Now, they’d disintegrate even faster than planned, I guess.” The irony was lost on him.
            “Correct. The Swedes and Canadians have been working on it too, but only the British version works when subjected to direct sunlight. Well, I say British, but it isn’t quite. The firm now dabbling in it is French-Swiss – Cerberus. Their founder, Loup Malefice bought the rights and hired the scientists.”
            “So commodities on window-sills are safe?”
            “Yes. To start with, the self-destruction time could be varied from three months of summer sunshine to three years. They toyed with calling it Ecodream! Now, though, if applied in the right proportions, this stuff could turn plastics to dust in three hours!”
            I didn’t like where this was leading: Rippon, the incredible melting man. But it was time for my “It’s only effective on plastics, surely?”
            Shaking his head, Thurston mumbled, “Was, Alan, was... But the military got interested...”
            Bloody typical!
            “As you’re aware, any major scientific discovery has the Defence people looking for ways of utilising these inventions. Often, it’s the other way around, isn’t it? A military invention has civilian use – look at GPS, for example.” I nodded while trying to maintain my bearings in Thurston’s lengthy and rather meandering explanation. “Intensive research came up with a refined adaptation for use on human tissue and metals. In fact, only glass and rubber are really impervious.”
            Of course the suntan lotion had been in a glass jar.
            Thurston went on, “It can assume any colour; we still call it a dye, though.” He shrugged. “But without the action of sunlight, the stuff’s harmless.”
            Well, in for a penny: “And the formula’s been stolen?”
            “As well as a large sample of the dye, yes.”
            My mouth had gone dry, but I had no desire to resort to the coffee. “How on earth did Rippon come to possess the doctored lotion in the first place?”
            “A good point. Rippon was the Under Secretary responsible for Science and Research Coordination. He used to entertain scientists regularly at his Belgravia home. Keeping in touch, he called it. The four suspects all visited Rippon last week when they reported the formula and sample missing.”
            “I see. A few minutes in Rippon’s bathroom and the lotion could’ve been treated. I suppose that money’s the motive?”
            “Oh, yes. Our lab discovered the bottle’s label had a message on it: Payment of £2 million for the formula’s return...”
            “And the means of communicating our response?”
            “We must give our decision in tomorrow’s Times and await further instructions. The alternative given isn’t pretty – an unspecified town’s water-supply will be treated with the stuff at...” and he squinted at his desk-clock/calculator, “... seven tomorrow night...”
            “This puts the current bout of consumer terrorism in the shade.” No pun intended. “We’ve less than twenty hours...”
            “Imagine,” Thurston said, shaking his head, staring at his open file.
            I had already: a whole town, washing and cooking, then going out to work in the sunshine. Sunshine was rare enough in these islands, but to make it a killer defied belief. Bloody typical of the defence establishment! A boon to mankind, to abolish waste, and they have to meddle with it, turning sunshine into a killer far more effective than cancerous melanoma.
            We could pray for rain, I suppose.
            Thurston stood up, paced the tired carpet and scowled at the streaks of pigeon-pollution brightening the window-sill outside. “Well, Alan, I want you to go to their Research Establishment – Pethewray Point, on the Devon coast. The security dossiers of the prime suspects, courtesy of the Minister himself, are on my desk.” He jutted his chin at the teak furniture in case I had difficulty identifying it as a desk. The dockets were red, and as I picked them up their India-tags clinked on the polished surface. Thurston swerved round, and I smiled: the desk was unscathed. “All have been involved with the project since MOD took over. And they’re the only ones who’ve had access to the formula and the dye samples.”
I elected to drive down in my battered old Citroen – I profited more on expenses. Sergeant Carol Basset occupied the passenger seat, working through the dossiers. She usually drove me around, but was happy to let me take the strain. It had proved a strange yet rewarding partnership; we’d worked together since SOCA was established in 2006 and after a brief period getting to know each other’s methods we’d gelled. Partly due to our surnames, partly because we made a good and rather tenacious team, many in SOCA referred to us as “the dogs of law”. I’m not keen on celebrity, a term that’s been demeaned over recent years, but I couldn’t argue with that definition, I suppose. Carol reckoned it was a hoot. I always thought of her as Carol, but traditionally I referred to her as “Sergeant”, rather than “Basset”.
            All the way on the road I couldn’t get rid of the nightmare vision of a sunny Cornish ghost-town succumbing. Had I just passed through it? Were those shoppers I’d seen back there destined to die by the sun’s glowing rays? Death held no sting for me now, but this latest threat made me shudder.
            Twenty chequered years with the Force meant I’d seen my fair share of misery: widows prostrate, rape victims in catatonia, unrepentant murderers in strait-jackets, orphaned children in traumatic shock, mutilated children and their bereft parents: the list was endless. And the Grim Reaper hadn’t left me unscarred, either. Eileen had foolishly opened a mysterious parcel addressed to me during the Kyle terror-gang investigation. There wasn’t much of the house standing when the bomb-blast’s dust-clouds subsided. Courtesy of extremists, not your run-of-the-mill underworld villains. Society of late seemed to breed a lot of extremists; it was as if the thin veneer of civilisation was being scraped away by incursions from the State, self-interest groups, interfering self-aggrandising do-gooders, religious zealots, law-makers who didn’t understand human nature, and of course politicians who didn’t live in the real world. Eventually, we caught the bastards, though their subsequent sentences didn’t remove the profound emptiness she’d left behind. We’d bought this car on our tenth wedding anniversary.
            When some of the city’s villains I’d helped put inside actually paid their respects at Eileen’s funeral, I had almost gone to pieces. Stupid, really, we’d been too close, loved too deeply, so when I was left alone, I was just that – alone. We had no friends, only acquaintances and colleagues. They did their best, offering well-meaning platitudes. Christ, I’d better get rid of the car. I can’t face this self-pitying catharsis every time I drive long-distance!
            “You’re very quiet, sir?” Carol said.
            “Sorry, I was thinking.”
            “That’s my job. You make the arrests.”
            I laughed, tears streaming, vision slightly blurred, but not dangerously affected. I glanced quickly at her but she was looking at the dossier. Hastily, I wiped my eyes and cheeks with the back of a hand; there was hardly any wobble as I steered one-handed.
Under the benign sun I parked in a layby, a small distance before the next rise which concealed all but the radio antennae of the Pethewray Point establishment.
            “We’re early,” I said. “The Research Director isn’t expecting us till 9am.”
            “Fancy a look around, sir?”
            “Indeed.” I opened the door and got out. “Time for a little relaxation, before the fray.”
            Leaning on the other side of the car roof, Carol said, “And time to blow away the memories, if nothing else.”
            Sometimes, I was sure she was a mind-reader.
            Breathing in the salty air, I walked across the weather-beaten prickly-yellow gorse, Carol silent by my side. Fields gently climbed towards the cliff edge a half-mile away, where I could glimpse the shale rooftops of a couple of cottages. Circling gulls squealed plaintively.
            The warming sun highlighted the Ministry of Defence notices surrounding the isolated village of wired-off Nissen huts and prefabricated offices. Scaffolding framework stalked to the rear of the place; drills stuttered loudly on the faint breeze. It was in places like this, on the edges of solitude, where my senses came alive; the opposite of sensory deprivation – city-life surrounded the body, permeated the skin and mind: only here could I seem to function as a human being.
            I blinked away morbid thoughts and turned to Carol. “Time to go, Sergeant.”
I hope this whets your appetite for the actual book!
Only the prologue is in the first person. The rest of the novel is told in third person, as usual.
A few more glimpses into Catacomb will be made in the run-up to publication day, 20 October, 2015.
Cataclysm, the third in the series will be published in mid-December.
CATALYST available in paperback and e-book 
From Amazon COM here
From Amazon UK here
From Kobo here
From Smashwords here

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