Taking my favourite, heroic ginger Royal and twisting him into a psychotic, sadistic survivalist was (to date) the most fun I’ve had writing a novel. Please enjoy.
The following excerpt is from dEaDINBURGH: Origins and is copyright of Mark Wilson and Paddy’s Daddy Publishing:
dEaDINBURGH: Origins is currently on FREE promo at Amazon (until April 25th, 2015).
“I’m not interested, Jimmy. You fire in.”
He throws me a smile that’s not really a smile at all. It’s laced with sarcasm and judgement. Letting his raised eyebrows mock me for a few seconds, he finally turns his attention to the young lass.
“I will,” he says, leering at her legs.
Leaving our booth, Lieutenant James Kelly staggers on strong but wobbly legs across the carpet to unload his spiel on the unsuspecting girl in the red dress, completely oblivious to the wedding ring on her finger or the husband in the toilets. Jim’s had a few drinks, but he’s entitled. Besides, I’m designated babysitter tonight, subsequently limited to two drinks.
Harry, who’s in better shape but approaching tipsy, reaches across the table and drops a note.
“Fifty quid he earns himself a generous kick in the testicles.”
“Fuck off, Spike,” I tell him. He snatches the strangely-coloured note back.
“Right. For fuck sake.”
Despite myself I laugh. I always do. It’s his voice. It always makes me laugh when he swears using that clipped, so very proper accent of his. So at odds with who and what he actually is.
I throw a twenty of my own on top of his purple twenty, both bearing his grandmother’s likeness, and give him my thickest Lanarkshire accent.
“Right then, fanny-baws. Twenty sheets it is.”
He laughs loudly at me.
“Nice,” he says. “Don’t often let the…” He pauses for a few seconds, searching for the phrase. “Schemey. You don’t often let your schemey origins show, Cameron.” He laughs at his own use of the colloquialism.
“Aye, well. You’re being an especially excellent example of your kith and kin tonight, Harry,” I tell him. I hardly ever call him by name. All the lads call him Spike. Always have.
The ever-so-posh demeanour and bumbling, upper-class moron act he uses, which we call his Bruce Wayne persona, couldn’t be further from the man I’ve known for a third of my life. The soldier, the professional killer, the assassin who sits opposite me is not the man his public buys into. The jovial, ruddy-faced, red-haired buffoon he plays for the public and the media. Captain Wales, Apache-pilot. An officer and the poshest of gentlemen. This image carefully crafted and maintained by the ministry, so often useful as a mask and diversion, betrays not a sliver of who Spike really is.
Jim Kelly and I have been his shadows since Sandhurst. Employed to protect a killing machine. The thought is laughably ironic, as though Spike had ever feared anything or anyone. We trained and bled and laughed and drank and killed alongside him during his rigorous training in the Army Air Corps and then Special Division and on every Black-Ops mission since.
Captain Wales, according to official records, completed two heroic tours in Afghanistan based at Camp Bastion, Helmand province. His presence there was kept secret for the months of his tour, to both protect the men serving beside him and allow the young soldier the privacy to perform his duty. To be one of the troops.
Of course, cameras followed from a distance, filming him. Showing him mucking in like any other man of his rank and duty. A promise from the media, a gentlemen’s agreement, to not break the story until his unit were safely home was respected. A year later an admiring public watched with admiration as the news crews showed footage of the young captain doing his duty.
A substantial morale boost to the troops, his presence lingered for months following his departure, motivating the men who remained or replaced.
Ask any of the soldiers stationed there during that time, and they’ll tell you, “Great patriot. One of the lads. True professional.”
And they wouldn’t be lying: the man they served with was all of those things. He just wasn’t actually Captain Wales.
The genuine article, Spike we call him, long story, was in Syria, doing his real job.
I cut him a look, marvelling as I always do at how effectively this man masks who he really is beneath a veneer of joviality and haphazard clumsiness.
“I might be a schemey,” I smile at him, “but that lassie over there is all class. He’s getting sent packing.”
I jab a thumb at Jimmy who, one hand on her knee the other trying to get the attention of the barman, is laying it on thick for the lady in red.
“Watch this,” I say.
Harry flashes his best smile, the one we call his camera smile. All perfect teeth and carefree attitude, a mask for the iron-veined soldier underneath. The Batman persona.
“Yes, all right then, Cameron. Let’s see, shall we?”
His confidence, borne of generations of status, wealth and breeding, but also from hundreds of hours of Black-Op missions and killing, oozes from every pore.
We watch as the girl accepts the drink – a single-malt, no ice – and gently removes James’ hand from her thigh where it’s crept. She talks politely for a few short minutes then firmly ushers him back to our table. He walks slowly back to us, arms spread like Jesus, all attrition and mock repentance.
“She’s gay,” he tells us, sheepishly, despite his demeanour.
Spike’s laugh fills the booth.
“Of course she is, my boy. What rotten luck.” His affection is genuine.
I pick up my winnings from the table as Jim plonks himself back into the comfortable leather bench of the booth.
Spike juts his chin towards the bar.
“My round, I believe, chaps. Same again?”
Jim burps loudly, exaggerating the noise. “I’ll have a pint this time, Spike,” he says, Edinburgh accent thickening as his sobriety thins.
I take the fifty from Spike’s hand. “I’ll go,” I say.
His lips thin but he doesn’t argue with me. He knows we could do with some peace and quiet. It’s almost midnight and people are busy getting excited about seeing another year end and one begin, but as soon as he leaves the relative privacy of the booth, cap pulled down over his eyes and bushy red hair or not, someone will clock that famous face of his and our night will be over.
The lady in red catches my eye as I approach the bar and waves me over.
“Your pal. He all right?” Her husband’s back at her side and giving us a puzzled look.
“Aye,” I say, “he’ll cope.” I smile at them both. He looks relaxed, but you never know with some blokes, especially on the drink.
“Another admirer, eh?” he smiles at his wife and then throws a big genuine grin at me. “Poor wee bastard.” He laughs, sharing a private joke with his wife.
I acknowledge his joke with a nod, “Have a good night, folks. Happy New Year when it comes.”
The couple return their best wishes and I turn back to the bar to shout the barman over.
Whilst he’s away pouring the drinks, I scan around the pub. It’s packed, so we did well to get the booth during Hogmanay in Edinburgh. It’s a minor miracle we got a seat at all, but we have been in here for most of the afternoon and evening, leaving the table only to relieve our bladders. Hell, we’ve earned some downtime: it’s been a bad year.
There’s a band setting up through in the stage area. All low cavernous ceilings, reminiscent of the Edinburgh vaults, the venue slash pub holds a great little crowd and an atmosphere that belies its size. Down on the Cowgate, Bannerman’s has long been a favourite of ours. Whenever we are in town, which is often, this is our second home. After Holyrood Palace, of course.
The bar owner has known us for years and is one of that rare type who couldn’t care less who a person is, so long as they behave themselves and send their wages over his counter-top. Travelling and working alongside Spike, you tend to put people into types based on their reaction to His Royal Majesty: gawpers, agitators, creeps and indifferent. Jackie was the last of these. The working classes, more in common with the toffs than either group realise, tend to be relaxed around Spike.
An hour later and the bells have come and gone. A slow trickle of drunk and happy people begin to spill out onto the Cowgate. Parents who’ve managed to get babysitters begin to remember that early start the next day and grimace at the thought of their little ones bounding cheerfully into their rooms at first light. Young kids couldn’t care less about hangovers or days off.
Twenty-somethings – the three of us have recently left that particular club-dance – are out looking for their next party or nightclub. Tourists, singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and staggering on the cobbles, trying to remember which direction their hotel was in.
The barman, Jackie Naismith, gives the regulars a nod and yells, “Time, please.”
We stay put. Jackie’s a good bloke, he’ll see us right. I watch the big barman slide the upper and lower bolts into place on the heavy doors and light a cigarette. Lock-ins, the sanctuary of the blessed man. Late night drinking behind closed doors at the invitation of the landlord. And you don’t have to step outside into the shredding Edinburgh wind when you want a fag.
Jackie slams a few heavy, old-fashioned ashtrays onto the bar followed by a bottle of Glenmorangie Pride 1978 Spike gave him as a thank-you gift three years ago. Jackie places the thirty-four-year aged single-malt gently onto the counter, yanks at the cork and takes a deep nose-full of the escaping vapours. He pours four singles and replaces the cork, returning the bottle to its locked case behind the bar.
“Here ye go, Cammy,” he says, pushing three tumblers towards me. “Don’t drink it too fast. That deserves to be enjoyed.” He glares at me but the malice he directs towards me is meant affectionately.
He gives me a quick nod then focuses his attention on the shot of whiskey he’s waited all year to enjoy.
As I gather our drinks a wee guy I don’t know nods at me as I walk past. I laugh as I hear him get told to “Get tae fuck, Johnny,” by Jackie.
Never interrupt a man with a rare whiskey in his hand.
Spike notices me coming with the drinks. A silent exchange passes between us confirming Jackie’s generosity with his prized whiskey. Spike takes his glass from me and strolls over to the bar for a chat with Jackie. Flopping into the leather booth, I cut a look at James who’s sprawled over the beer-soaked table, face resting on an arm.
I don’t try too hard to wake him and carefully I make my whiskey a double.
“Thanks, Jim. That’s good of ye,” I tell the back of his head. He grunts something unintelligible.
Sipping at the whiskey I let the off-amber fire soak in my mouth, under my tongue and slosh to the roof of my mouth for a bit, enjoying the intensity of the burn which continues along my gullet and into my stomach after I swallow. Feeling the warmth spread, seemingly to my bones, I close my eyes and enjoy the sensation. The noise of a siren nearby threatens to break the moment, but I find my whiskey-Zen again and submerge myself in the sensations.
I feel a buzz that has nothing to do with the evening, the company or the whiskey and snap my eyes open, searching for Spike. His eyes are already on me, alerted by his own device. Even James is up from his seat looking significantly more alert. A decade of training takes control of us.
Jim secures the doors and windows, Harry takes his cap off and shows our fellow drinkers his face. He uses their shock at seeing his familiar coupon to usher the remaining revellers, along with Jackie, to the rear of the pub, smiling genially and muttering apologies as he shepherds the mostly drunk crowd.
I’m on weapons detail. On sober duty, I’m the only one who’s supposed to be carrying a firearm. I pull my Sig Sauer P230 from the horizontal holster at the base of my spine. Performing an automatic check, I ready the sidearm and check with the lads.
Spike has three knives, his favoured weapons, of various size and type on his person. I know this without asking, but he also pulls out a handgun I didn’t know he had, another Sig P230. That’s fourteen rounds between us.
James, a little slower thanks to the alcohol but mostly alert, pulls out a P226 with fifteen rounds. Neither of them should be carrying. We share a sardonic smile as we assess each other from across the room.
Several other sirens have joined the first I heard in the ten seconds since our personal comm-devices issued the level 1 alert and I can hear sounds of a crowd gathering on the Cowgate. I sweep my eyes around the room one more time and pull my phone from my back pocket. As I move my thumb to speed dial our control centre, it buzzes in my hand. I answer in less than a second and bark my clearance code into the receiver.
“Confirmed,” a woman’s voice says, “please hold for Lt Colonel Melville.”
The line clicks and the calm voice of our CO speaks.
“Situation report please, Captain Shephard.”
“Unit is in lockdown in a level 2 secure building. No immediate threat present. High defensive capability.”
I listen as Melville leans away from the phone, someone whispering updates in his ear. Spike and James, both calmly standing their zones and smoothing things out with the other occupants of the pub, look to me with questioning eyes.
I break eye contact as Melville coughs and returns to the phone.
“We’re at full-alert, Captain. Escort Captain Wales to…” Another pause for updates. “Escort the captain to Beta Location. Acknowledge.”
“Acknowledged, sir. Timescale?”
Melville, a man with a stoic reputation, unimpressed by pomp or status, sounds genuinely ruffled.
“Immediately, Captain. Expect resistance.”
A trickle of cold sweat tracks its way down my butt crack as the significance hits me.
“Sir. Civilian or military?”
He answers and I wish I hadn’t asked.
“Anyone who gets in your way, Captain. Direct route, no detours. No other directives.”
Melville clicks off, leaving my next words stillborn in my mouth. Despite the insistence on urgency, I take a second to compose myself. From outside a choir of sirens races past up on South Bridge. The crash of twisted metal vibrates down to the Cowgate and rattles the windows. Something explodes, the pub’s frosted windows light up as a fireball warms the night sky. People outside, minutes ago laughing and dancing, are now screaming loudly. Jim and Spike both look to me once again.
“Direct evac,” I tell them. “No distractions. Level one.”
Spike waves me off and returns to calming the punters in the bar.
“Spike, I’ll force you if I have to.”
He raises an eyebrow in amusement. We both know that if he chooses to assert himself, I’ll come off worst. We also both know that he’ll have to hurt me badly to deter me. Neither of us wishes this.
“Not until these people are safe,” he says, pulling at a cellar door behind the bar.
The last level one alert issued to our team was when the plane hit floors 93-99 of the World Trade Centre’s north tower. We were in London at the time and had Spike to his safe location in under five minutes.
None of us know exactly what’s going on outside in the gothic city, but the status of the command leaves us in little doubt that something dreadful is happening to the city. Invading army, bombing, nuclear aggression, bioweapons? We can’t know. We have our orders. Go directly to Beta Location, secure Harry. Do not pass go, do not collect a hundred pounds. Do not stop to help anyone, only engage enemies if progress is barred.
I grind my teeth and crack the pub door a fraction, trying to gain some insight as Spike and James usher the pub’s occupants down into the cellar. Jackie descends the stairs last, face stern.
Spike gives them assurances that they’ll be safe in their hiding place and that he’ll make sure that someone comes for them quickly. Jackie reappears and offers a beefy hand which Spike encloses in two of his.
“I promise, Jack. Now go.”
The big bartender gives him a firm nod and disappears down into the cool cellar with his customers.
Spike wastes another twenty seconds closing the cellar door and shifting a rug over the top of it for camouflage.
James has drained two cups of coffee. He’s alert now, but walking a fine line between sobriety and the shrill over-sensitivity to stimuli that a good dose of black caffeine brings.
Peering through the door I watch people run past Bannerman’s all headed away from The Royal Mile, towards The Grassmarket. Bad news for us; our evacuation route takes us along Niddry Street, straight up onto The Royal Mile and along to Holryrood House where an underground bunker and/or chopper awaits.
I close the door softly and double-check my sidearm.
“You guys ready or do you have something else to take care of?”
Neither answers. Instead they flank me, weapons ready, and we crash through the doors into a nightmare.
Cammy threw the double doors open and they spilled out into the street. It was one of those moments, the ones you never saw coming but which changed everything you thought was certain about your world. The sequences and events a team prepared for hundreds of times in training and executed dozens of times – if you were lucky, and you were good – in the field.
Secure, recon, eliminate threats, progress.
They’d done this together so many times they had lost count. Each of them knew his respective role. The big men, so well-coordinated it looked like a lover’s dance, began to move in synchronised perfection.
James had shaken off the last effects of the evening’s alcohol. A glucose tablet and two cups of strong black coffee in under a minute had brought his senses screaming back online. All he had left to fight was the encroaching shrillness of his hyper-alert state – and whatever was happening in the city. Despite the pressure, James felt calm, in control. His training and hard-earned experience taking over, he was a virtual passenger. His best friends by his side meant that he feared nothing. Business as usual, no matter how odd the location.
Through the door, three men, back to back, pirouetted and scanned each section of their zones twice. Smooth, certain, decisive.
That was normally how it went, at any rate. Cutting a look past Harry’s left shoulder, James’ eyes widened as they watched a young man in denims and a Nirvana T-shirt run directly towards them. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-one, just a kid but crazed and covered in blood and gore and sprinting at them, lips peeled back from blooded teeth, naked fury burning in his eyes. No, not fury… hunger.
James moved his weapon up smoothly and issued the kid a warning.
The kid kept coming. Snarling, he leaped over a shredded body and raised his hands as claws.
James did not hesitate and fired three rounds centre mass into the kid’s heart.
Whipping around he repeated the process, killing four more feral-looking people. The world transformed into a fury of teeth and blood and crazed eyes and death. His team had taken down around a dozen assailants but had expended almost all of their ammo.
“What the fuck has got into these people?” James asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” Cameron replied roughly. “Let’s move.”
James and Cameron flanked Harry who covered their rear as his two guards progressed up the hill towards The Royal Mile. After ten steps Harry swore loudly in that refined voice.
“What in the name of holy fuck?”
James and Cammy swung around, facing the direction they’d come from.
Every one of the people they had dispatched was somehow back up on their feet. Some looked dazed, others fixed on the three friends instantly. All had congealed jelly-like blood clotted where arterial spray should have been pumping out onto the pavement. They bared their teeth once again and ran at the team.
Harry raised his gun first and put a single round into the head of the nearest man, a policeman in torn, bloody uniform sporting two bullet holes delivered to his heart by Cameron moments before. The policeman collapsed like a marionette with its strings severed and didn’t rise a second time.
“Headshots,” Spike said, firing his last two rounds into the heads of a tourist with a rucksack on her back and an elderly lady who was running at him with the speed of an athlete. Both face-planted the cobbles, skidding to a stop a few feet from the group.
Cammy turned uphill once more and brought down two new arrivals who’d been drawn down from The Royal Mile by the gunfire. All three men took advantage of a ten-second break in the onslaught to check their firearms, confirming what they already knew. Three rounds left: two for James and one for Cameron. Spike holstered his empty sidearm and drew two of his blades, big Rambo-esque knives with one sleek edge and a ragged one. One of them sported his house emblem, while the other, a gift from his grandfather, bore his name.
The three men exchanged glances and sprinted the length of Niddry Street, dodging fallen people and shouldering further assailants from their path. Spilling out onto The Royal Mile they cut a quick look uphill and gasped.
The famous thoroughfare’s width and length was filled to overflowing with people. Some crawled over cobbles and over each other, some ran… and all were screaming. Some of those screams were gargled, the thick blood torn loose blocking the path of their dying wails. Some were screams of fledgling hunger from the throats of new-born creatures already deep in the throes of an eternally-agonising appetite for flesh.
Blood flowed in thick, fast rivulets between the cobbles towards the men. The soldiers noted immediately that a close, further along The Mile, was the likely epicentre of whatever the hell was happening. Cameron discharged the last of his ammo into the head of a heavily-built man in a kilt, slipped his knife from concealment and rammed it through the temple of another lunatic trying to force the big officer to the bloody cobbles beneath.
James pulled at Harry’s sleeve to cajole him along in the opposite direction. His friend stiffened, resisting, and pulled his arm free. James watched as the man he was sworn to protect plunged the knife in his right hand through the top of a female tour-guide’s skull. Releasing the big knife, leaving it in her head, he continued his move by fluidly stepping on the back of a dead tourist and launching himself into a wide-arced leap. Adjusting in mid-air, he changed to a two-handed grip on his remaining blade and brought it down heavily into the base of the neck of a woman who’d made it through Cameron’s defences.
James shouted at both men.
“When you’re all done, can we get fuckin’ moving?”
He nodded down the mile towards High Street. Despite the confusion and the terror and the river of blood and madness flooding their way, the men managed a tight grin.
“Keep your knickers, Jimmy,” said Spike.
All three men continued their sprint, feeling the crowd and the enemy thin out as they crested a little hill before High Street swooped down to Holyrood.
They skidded to a halt just after the cobbles end at the entrance to a former church. Looking around at the people running past, James gasped.
“What the hell is going on here?”
Cameron shook his head and blocked a young man about to clatter into James, sending the man sprawling onto the tarmac. The guy regained his feet instantly and sprinted on without ever looking back.
“They seem like they’re infected, near as I can make out,” Cameron said.
Harry laughed, but there was no humour in it.
“They look sick to you, Cameron?” he asked.
Cameron shrugged and opened his mouth to reply when one of the people who seemed to have gone insane came tearing along the street. The three soldiers watched in horror as the assailant pulled down an elderly woman and ripped at her throat, arms and legs with his teeth.
Clinically, James started counting. He reached thirty when the madman tore himself away from the dead woman and snarled, sending blood and flesh spilling onto the concrete. He… it lashed at another passer-by, a middle-aged man this time, and began tearing at his face.
James continued counting. At fifty seconds, the elderly woman jerked up. Moving smoother and significantly more quickly than she had before the attack, she sprang from the ground and fixed her eyes on them.
All three men watched the transformation take her, burning away the frail pensioner. They stood open-mouthed and inert. A first for the unit.
Cammy was the first to recover, but only by milliseconds. The trio, with a new vigour and previously untapped speed, resumed their run towards Holyrood Palace.
End of Excerpt
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