5 Types of Readers found in a Bookstore


Hello and Welcome back book lovers.

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of bookstore.”

Well bookstores are beautiful paradises filled with magical books and mythical & mystical readers wandering across dimensions. These readers surprise us with their knowledge, dictate us with their endless questions, and amuse us with their conversations

We just love our readers and today we give you an inside peak on the various type of readers we stumble upon in bookstores

 

  1. The Quiet Reader:

These types of readers find the best corners in the stores to read and they don’t want to be disturbed. Relaxed, composed and heavily invested in their books such readers would complain if they hear a single drop of noise also. Intellectually demanding they stand by the DONOT DISTURB ME Policy while reading in a store.

simposn
 

  1. The Caffeine Addict:

These readers just cannot read a book without putting huge amounts of coffee in their systems. You find them in book café’s or in reading areas with always a cup of coffee as they don’t enjoy reading without getting HIGH ON CAFFEINE. We do agree it is the best combination

coffee

 

  1. The Chatter ji’s:

Predominantly our YA crowd (teenagers). You will find them in groups and reading out aloud. You can hear their chitter chatter across the store on how Edward is so hawttt and how Augustus is the ideal boyfriend . You might even catch young couples holding hands and reading books to each other. Now that’s CUTE

couples

  1. The Social Reader:

These types of readers just want to have a good time. They enter a bookstore to have stimulating conversations with strangers, to start laugh riots and flaunt a know it all attitude. They can keep Booksellers busy all day in the store with their never ending questions and engaging conversations. In fact they don’t actually read books they read the WIKIPEDIA

dance

  1. The Wanderer :

This type of readers is actually really confused most of the time while selecting books. You will see them pacing around the store some 100 times figuring what to read, asking for recommendations and still not figuring out a book. You see them skimming various pages of different books to arrive at a conclusion.  We see them jumping genres, chasing too many booking and exuberating umpteen zeal at the sight of every new book.  We guess these type of readers will never be BORED by anything.

choose
 

We hope you enjoyed the blog..do drop in your comments if you are any of these types of readers.

 Happy Reading!

 Crossword Bookstores.

 

(P.S: List was combined by observing readers in our natural habitat (books))

 

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5 Most Popular Indian Authors….


Hello and Welcome back book lovers.

Social media lets you connect with everybody and anybody on the go..and everybody who is anybody is present on these platforms tweeting, facebooking, regraming, texting ,tubing and hanging out. And we all love it when somebody you idolize and like tweets you back..

So we know all the celebrities, ministers, journalists, news anchors, cricketers who are all  present on all digital platforms and our Indian authors are not behind on the social media wagon..

Here is a looks at our popular literati on social media:

 

  1. Young India Mascot: Chetan Bhagat

Love him or hate him..you just cannot ignore him! With a Facebook following of more than 55 lakhs  and 6 successful books in his kitty, he is out to show a different India.. From films to politics he has an opinion on everything and for him any publicity is good publicity. He is the no 1 most followed author in the country.

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2.  The Gifted One: Ashwin Sanghi

This is one author with a vast love and source of knowledge, with more than 1lakhs twitter followers he keeps us entertained with witty quotes, news updates and historic facts. Completely down to earth with a warm heart and smile He stands no 2 on our list.

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3.   The Boy Next Door : Durjoy Datta

With his cute Srk dimples and boyish charm.. he going to melt your hearts .. His Fb and Instagram are all filled with pictures of his dimples and selfies with fans.. and girls cant get enough of him.. Fans drool on his fb status updates, stalk him on twitter and send him poems,gifts, love messages and much more. Fans have proclaimed him as a total hottie as his gan following is predominantly raving teenage girls..He is no 3 on our list with around 4 lakhs fan base and half a lakh followers on twitter

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4.   The King of Romance: Ravinder Singh

We did not mean Srk of Course..but he is currently the biggest romance writer in the country..His total desi flavour of writing has wooed fans all over the country.. his fans have cried over all his books. He his always regularly tweeting and facebooking on relationships and what are the best things that make a relationship. This Romantic star loves being in touch with his fans and is  listening to what young India feels on  love. He is our No 4 most popular author
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5.  God’s Own Child: Amish

Har Har Mahadev!! Bestowed as this decade’s Literary Popstar.. this author with 3 blockbuster books is a marketing wiz. Close to a lakh follower on fb and 50k follows on twitter he has grown instantly in the writers circuit.. Be it is advance paychecks or his movie deals.. this author make news  style. He only tweets but there is a huge fan following for his writing style .. he stand no 5 on our list

amish

Other Popular authors on social media include:

    1. Ravi Subramanian
    2. Devdutt Pattanaik
    3. Rashmi Bansal
    4. Amitav Ghosh
    5. Preeti Shenoy

authors

 

We do have a whole lot more names on the list obviously but we couldn’t fit everybody…Sorry 😉

Hope you enjoyed the post…do drop in your comments

Happy Reading!

Crossword Bookstores

 

PS : The list was combined based on their fan following on Facebook, twitter & the popularity rankings. And it is unbiased. Plus we excluded notable journalists, celebrities, critics, politicians who  have also written  books.

(Images made at makeagif.com)

 

10 Reasons to visit a Bookstore this Month!


 

Hello and Welcome back book lovers. Sorry we haven’t updated in a while..

But we promise to give you some exciting reads from now on…

 

So if you are an online junkie or too busy or just plain lazy to go and visit a bookstore.. we give you some amazing reasons that will make you want to get up from comfy seats and get going..

 

  1. Sipping a hot cup of coffee and reading a book is the perfect way to enjoy the monsoon season.. and what better place than a bookstore.

 

  1. So if you are an online junkie or just lazy it’s a perfect exercise without too much effort.. a stroll in a store is all you need to lose some excess calories.

 

 

  1. Smell of old and new books in a store will make you feel like heaven..

 

 

  1. You can read books all day long in a bookstore in cosy corners without getting disturbed and without buying the book.

 

  1. Buying books at the store equals to making new friends equals to new crushes on fictional characters.

big bang

 

  1. You can meet new like minded people at a bookstore or you might even meet the love of your life there..you never know 😉

 

  1. Reading and browsing books makes you look intelligent and sexy.

cooper

  1. You will never discover new books by sitting at home.

potter

 

  1. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by loads of books and it only happens at a bookstore!

 

   10. And lastly personalized suggestion for books is an experience you won’t get anywhere.

 

So do visit soon a bookstore near you..its the  month for discounts and its loyal readers like you who keep us in business 😉

 

Happy Reading!

Crossword Bookstores.

 

 

(images sources via gify.com and tumblr.com)

 

 

Sneak Peek of ‘Private Down Under’


Hello & Welcome back Book Lovers, it’s been a while.  private-down-under

We apologize for not updating on the blog regularly.

But we promise to update it from now on 🙂

When the police can’t help you and the press will destroy you, when you need maximum force and maximum discretion, there’s only one place to go—Private, the detective agency that will get the job done, even if they have to break a few rules to do it.

Today we give you a sneak peek into the latest book in the ‘Private Series’  by James Patterson.

Jack Morgan, no 1 Private Detective  is back in the new book with a newly opened agency in Australia and new unsolved crimes that await him in Private Down Under

Read the preview to know more about the book

Also do drop in your comments below if you are excited to read the book.

Prologue

I’d seen pictures of Justine Smith, Jack Morgan’s No. 2 at Private LA, but she was far more beautiful in the flesh.

I stood at Sydney Airport International Arrivals and watched her waft out of customs with a trolley looking like she was ready for a model shoot – no clue she’d just been on a 14-hour flight.  She was here to launch the latest branch of the Private franchise created by Jack Morgan in LA – a top-notch investigative agency for top-notch people.

I held back, let her family greet her first.  There was her sister, Great, and husband, my new buddy, Brett Thorogood, the Deputy Commissioner of the New South Wales Police, their kids, Nikki, eight and Serge, ten.  Then I stepped forward, shock her hand.

I’d parked my Ferrari 458 Spider in the pick-up zone.  The Thorogoods headed off after we’d all synchronized watches for the launch party tonight and we were off, pulling out of the airport and onto the sun-drenched freeway.

None of us could have known what a fuck of a week we were about to have.

Chapter 1

He can see nothing.

He can hear nothing.

He runs, gasping, hits a hard object – face first.  His nose shatters, sending a cascade of agony through his head and down his spine.  Falls back, slams to the floor.  His head cracking on the concrete.  More pain.

He can see nothing.

He can hear nothing.

The sack hood over his head stinks of sweat and blood.  He tries to loosen the ties, but it’s no good.

He vomits, it hits the fabric, splashes on his face.

He thinks he’ll choke and part of him doesn’t care, wants it.  But the survival genes kick in and he panics, pulls up, the spew running down his shirt.  He reaches out and touches the wall. Moves left as fast as he can.  He feels the vibration of feet, people running toward him.

A burst of terrible agony in his back.  Two thumps propel him to the wall.  He smells fresh blood.  He smells tire rubber.  Another crunch, his thigh exploding.  But he keeps to the wall, sweat running down his ruined face, blood drops from his nose, his leg, his back.  He feels wet all over.  He’s a leaking sieve, his life draining away.  The pain in his legs screams.  The hood fabric sucks into his mouth.

He has to keep going. “MOVE OR DIE…MOVE OR DIE,” a voice bellows in his head.  Shrapnel clips his ear.  He screeches, feels his guts heave.  Another bullet thunders past his head, but he doesn’t hear it, just feels the air tremble.  Dust and concrete chips hit him in the face.  His legs start to buckle, but he refuses to give in.

“MOVE OR DIE.  MOVE OR DIE.”

He feels a door, pushes, stumbles through, trips, hits the concrete floor again.  Blood splashes across the floor, up the walls.  He pulls up once more.

He’s on a roller coaster, at the park with Grandma.  He’s four years old.  Then he’s floating in space.  No reference points.

He can see nothing.

He can hear nothing.

He sense the air tremble again.

He touches wood.  Another door.  It moves forward.  He’s falling…and dies before he hits the ground.

Chapter 2

I heard the crash from the other side of the room and for a second I thought one of the hired caterers had screwed up.  But then a woman screamed and I was dashing across reception.

I caught a glimpse of my right-hand woman, Mary Clarke, spin on her heel.  She’s a big, muscly girl but has the reaction time of Usain Bolt off the blocks.

I saw the blood first.  A smear, then a dark pool spreading out across the marble.  The man lay spread-eagled on the floor, face down, torn apart, gaping holes in his back, his right leg shattered, twisted obscenely under him.  A hood over his head.

I crouched down as Justine Smith ran up.

Pulling a tissue from my pocket, I wrapped it around my fingers, turned the body over and tried to remove the hood, but it was tied fast.  I glanced up to see Deputy Commissioner Thorogood.

“Jesus!” he said as he lowered beside me.

“Multiple gunshot wounds.  Twice in the back, leg.” I said and tilted the body so Thorogood could see the ragged circles in the guy’s linen jacket.

Darlene, Private’s tech guru, squatted down close to the body.  She’s usually in a lab coat over jeans, but tonight she was wearing a red cocktail dress that accentuated her incredible curves.  She pulled on latex gloves, removed a sharp implement from her clutch purse.  Leaning forward, she cut the ties of the hood and eased up the fabric.

“Holy Christ!” Thorogood exclaimed.

 

Chapter 3

His eyes had been gouged out.  There were two red craters in their place.  The skin was jagged, blood oozing.  A gray bundle of nerves snaked from the left socket and stuck to the skin of the man’s cheek.

It was hard to tell for sure, but he looked like a young kid, maybe late teens, twenty tops.  The rest of his face was smeared, his nose smashed to hell.

I heard Johnny Ishmah, the youngest of my team, behind me.  I turned to him. “Johnny get everyone out.” Then I saw Mary.  “Come with me.”

The Deputy Commissioner straightened and pulled out his cell as he walked away.

I heard him say “Inspector…”  His boys would be here in minutes.

“Well, not your average gatecrasher,” I heard Darlene mumble as Mary and I headed for the door.

“Blood trail.” I flicked a glance at the floor just beyond the door

“Passage leads ahead to the garage”, Mary responded

There was a slew of blood across the concrete, up the walls.  Picking our way round the puddles I leaned on the second door and we were out onto “Garage Level 1”.  Plenty of blood still, oval droplets on the rough concrete.  The sort of splashes someone makes when they are running and bleeding at the same time.

The poor kid had stopped here, blood had pooled into a patch about two feet wide that was ripplng away toward a drain in the floor.  The trail led off to the left.  Three cars stood there, a Merc, a Prius and my black Spider.  Tire marks close to the bend, more blood.

I bent down and picked up a shell casing, holding it in the tissue still in my hand.

“.357 Sig,” Mary said.  She was ex-Military Police, knew a thing or two.

“Pros.”

“Must be cameras everywhere.” She glanced around

“Small garage.  There’s a guard at the gate.  He has a security camera system.” I turned and led the way back.  The road narrowed , a barrier twenty yards ahead.  Next to that, a booth.

I could see immediately the place was hit.  Glass everywhere, the guard slumped unconscious, a row of monitors and inch from his head.  The cable to the hard drive dangling.  Standard system…record the garage for twelve-hour rotations on a terbyte hard drive.  Wipe it, start again.

“Took the hard drive,” Mary said nodding at the lead.

I crouched down beside the guard and lifted his head gently.  He stirred, pulled back and went for his gun.  That had gone too.

“Whoa buddy!” Mary exclaimed, palms up.

The guy recognised me. “Mr Gisto.’ He ran a hand over his forehead.  “Holy shit…”

“Easy, pal.” I placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Remember anything?”

He sighed.  “Couple of guys in black hoodies.  It all happened so bloody quick…”

“Alright,” I said, turning to Mary.  There was a sudden movement beyond the booth window. A cop in a power stance, finger poised to the trigger.

A second later Deputy Commissioner Thorogood appeared in the doorway, touched the offier’s arm.  “Put it down, constable.”

It was then I saw the third guy, standing next to Thorogood.  Middle build, five-ten, hard, lived-in face.  I recognised him immediately and felt a jolt of painful memories.  Covered it well.  I knew he instantly recognized me, but he pretended he hadn’t. The devious son of a bitch.

 

About the author:

JAMES PATTERSON is one of the best-known and biggest-selling writers of all time. He is the author of some of the most popular series of the past decade the Alex Cross, Womens Murder Club and Detective Michael Bennett novels and he has written many other number one bestsellers including romance novels and stand-alone thrillers. James is very supportive of the National Literacy Trust, an independent, UK-based charity that changes lives through literacy. In 2010, he was voted Author of the Year at the Childrens Choice Book Awards in New York.

Publisher: Random House India

Price: Rs 399

The book is available on http://www.crossword.in and at a Crossword store near you.

Signing off for now

Until next time Geeks.

Happy Reading!

Crossword Bookstores:

‘The Accidental Theologist’


Hello & Welcome back Book Lovers.   blog

It’s been a while and we apologize for it.

Hope you reading a lot of books these days.

Today we have a very intriguing and curious psychologist turned reporter turned theologist turned writer with us.

Meet Award winning writer, Lesley Hazleton  who has spent more than 10 years of her life staying in the Middle East, covering stories on politics, religion and history of the country.

She is an agnostic and has written extensively on Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Anyone who meets Lezley will tell you that that she is confident, articulate and a classy style diva.

Her previous works include detailed stories of Israeli women, A memoir of Jerusalem, Mother Mary, Jezebel, Shia Shunni Split. Her in-depth narrative, coherent writing and archaic facts is what keeps one glued to her books. She started researching and writing on various religions during her stay in the Middle East.

Her new book “The First Muslim” examines the narrative account of Prophet Muhammad in his formative years and how he rose to power. She describes him as a complex man with varying notions on politics and faith.

‘The First Muslim’ is also on The Crossword Bestseller list.

She currently stays in Seattle and spends gloomy evenings working on her next project, you can also know more about her from her blog .wwww.theaccidentaltheologist.com

Read an extract of her interview with us..

 

1.         A lot of Biographies have been written on Prophet Muhammad and on  his life and teachings…what made you delve  into his life further?

Basically, frustration!   I’d read many modern biographies of him, but either they seemed overly timid, as though tip-toeing through his life, or they were devotional hagiographies.  Either way, they had a soporific effect on me, and this seemed utterly wrong;  how could anyone do that to such a dramatic life?   Muhammad carved a huge profile in history, and yet the more I read, the less I seemed to have any real sense of who he actually was.  I wanted to do justice to a remarkable story – to accord him the integrity of reality, of a full life lived.  And sure enough, the deeper I went, the more complex and interesting he became.

 

2.         You have also written on the whole divide between the strongest Muslim communities ‘Shia and Sunni Muslims’ which is a strong intense war even today..Do you think the basis of this laid the foundations during Prophet Muhammad’s era?

It did.  My previous book, After the Prophet, explores this.  In a sense, the split began at the moment of Muhammad’s death, though the roots of it reach back into his lifetime.  It’s an intensely human story – a tragedy of epic dimensions that spans three generations of Muhammad’s family and the first fifty years of Islam.  And it goes deep to issues that still haunt us:  pragmatism and idealism, faith and politics, power and powerlessness.  Sometimes I imagine that if the story had only been better known, the US would never have been so foolish as to have invaded Iraq, which is precisely where the Sunni-Shia split crystallized.  But I know that’s probably just wishful thinking

 

3. For writing any kind of extensive biography you would have to spend huge hours in researching and checking every facts that must have come along.. tell us about your difficult  days spent on writing this book?

In a sense, I was living a kind of dual existence:  I’d wake every morning in misty Seattle to people and events half the world and almost half of history away, in seventh-century Arabia.  Yes, it was difficult – not least because I was aware of how intensely The First Muslim would be scrutinized, especially since I am an agnostic Jew, not a believing Muslim.  But it was also a joy.  To live in two worlds at once, the Pacific Northwest and the not-so-pacific Middle East?  To keep daily company with a prophet and bring a remarkable life to life?  This is a writer’s privilege.

 

4. Care to tell  the readers more about the sacred relationship between Muhammad and his first wife Khadija..

Islamophobes love to paint Muhammad as a lecherous polygamist, thus betraying nothing but their own ignorance (and their lascivious imagination).  Muhammad and Khadija were in a loving, caring, monogamous marriage for 24 years until her death, when he was still struggling for acceptance of his message.  In late life, he married nine other wives – diplomatic marriages, as all leaders of the time made – but it’s clear that he mourned Khadija until the day of his own death.

 

5.         You have stayed in the Middle East for more than 10 years.. where women are treated as  inferiors and the status never seems to change for the longest time right through Islam and women don’t have a say at all .Do you think we will see changing times soon for women in the Middle east?

I think this change is inevitable.  After all, the Quran, unlike the Bible, goes to great pains to include women.  It won’t happen overnight, just as revolution doesn’t happen overnight (or in a single season, per the journalistic meme of “the Arab spring”), but more and more strong women’s voices are emerging both in the Middle East and in other Muslim countries.

 

6.         We always see a whole debate where in the West, Islam as a religion is now being considered very negative, extremist and as a religion disliked by the West due to the Jihad wars and terrorists acts committed in the name of jihad. Any views on how this opinions of Islam as an extremist religion can be changed and Did Muhammad actually preach Jihad the way it has been preached by militant Islamist groups.

There have been dozens of fatwas by leading Islamic scholars saying in the strongest terms that slaughtering civilians in the name of God is an obscene travesty of Islam.  In the Quran, jihad specifically refers to the struggle to lead a good life “in the path of God,” not to armed conflict.  The interpretation of jihad as warfare only came into being three centuries after Muhammad’s death, and while I certainly can’t speak for him, I’m pretty sure that if he could see what was being preached in his name by violent extremists, he’d be the first to stand against them and call them out as murderers.

 

7. All your books are so detailed, factual, gripping. What can we expect next from you?

Well, talking of gripping, I think it’s time for me to come to grips with my own agnosticism, so I’m working on a kind of agnostic manifesto.  I’m enjoying the luxury of writing again in the first person – there’s great freedom in that – and of exploring (and challenging) my own thinking.

 

8. Apart from being an Accidental Theologist, tell us some of your quirks?

Off the top of my head:

— a love of paradox

— an ability to eat six dozen oysters at a time

— a weakness for knee-high suede boots

 

9. Authors you admire?

Let’s just start with Graham Greene, Peter Matthiessen, Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion…

 

10. Types of books you dislike reading

— books with lazy, clichéd language (alas, most popular fiction)

— books that fail to spark my imagination (alas, most academic writing)

— books that are self-serving (like too many political autobiographies)

 

11.       Books you can’t put down

I seem to be very good at putting down books described as “un-put-downable” (I fell asleep a few pages into The Da Vinci Code).  Books I really can’t put down are books I read for a second, even a third time.   Right now that’s Richard Rodriguez’ new book Darling.  It’s subtitled “a spiritual autobiography” but I’m glad to say it’s not – it’s something far more intricate and supple, and I love the way his mind works.

 

12. You have travelled the world over, your favourite country/destination?

Places I keep secret!  Untouched, magical places.  A hidden saltwater lagoon in the San Juan islands;  a hot spring coming out of the rock in the mountains north of Guadalajara;  a sage-scented wadi deep in the Sinai desert – these and others are places where I have sat quietly for hours at a time, and I am still grateful for their existence.  I’m not religious, but as Laurens van der Post once wrote, “an amen to such places.”

 

Price: Rs 599

Published by Atlantic Books

Represented & Distributed exclusively by Penguin Books India

Available on www.crossword.in and at a Crossword store near you.

 

Signing off for now

 

 Until next time Geeks.

 

 And don’t forget to drop in your comments.

 

 For details and queries write to crosswordconnect@gmail.com

 

 Happy Reading!

 

 Crossword Bookstores

Sneak Preview of ‘The Bone Season’ by Samantha Shannon


I like to imagine there were more of us in the beginning. Not many, I suppose. But more than there are now. bone season

We are the minority the world does not accept. Not outside of fantasy, and even that’s blacklisted. We look like everyone else.

Sometimes we act like everyone else. In many ways, we are like everyone else. We are everywhere, on every street. We live in a way you might consider normal, provided you don’t look too hard.

Not all of us know what we are. Some of us die without ever knowing. Some of us know, and we never get caught. But we’re out there.

Trust me.

I had lived in that part of London that used to be called Islington since I was eight. I attended a private school for girls, leaving at sixteen to work. That was in the year 2056. AS 127, if you use the Scion calendar. It was expected of young men and women to scratch out a living wherever they could, which was usually behind a counter of one sort or another. There were plenty of jobs in the service industry. My father thought I would lead a simple life; that I was bright but unambitious, complacent with whatever work life threw at me.

My father, as usual, was wrong.

From the age of sixteen I had worked in the criminal underworld of Scion London – SciLo, as we called it on the streets. I worked among ruthless gangs of voyants, all willing to fl oor each other to survive. All part of a citadel-wide syndicate headed by the Underlord. Pushed to the edge of society, we were forced into crime to prosper.

And so we became more hated. We made the stories true. I had my little place in the chaos. I was a mollisher, the protégée of a mime-lord. My boss was a man named Jaxon Hall, the mimelord responsible for the I-4 area. There were six of us in his direct employ. We called ourselves the Seven Seals.

I couldn’t tell my father. He thought I was an assistant at an oxygen bar, a badly paid but legal occupation. It was an easy lie. He wouldn’t have understood if I’d told him why I spent my time with criminals. He didn’t know that I belonged with them. More than I belonged with him.

I was nineteen years old the day my life changed. Mine was a familiar name on the streets by that time. After a tough week at the black market, I’d planned to spend the weekend with my father. Jax didn’t twig why I needed time off – for him, there was nothing worth our salt outside the syndicate – but he didn’t have a family like I did. Not a living family, anyway.

And although my father and I had never been close, I still felt I should keep in touch. A dinner here, a phone call there, a present at Novembertide. The only hitch was his endless list of questions.

What job did I have? Who were my friends? Where was I living?

I couldn’t answer. The truth was dangerous. He might have sent me to Tower Hill himself if he’d known what I really did. Maybe I should have told him the truth. Maybe it would have killed him.

Either way, I didn’t regret joining the syndicate. My line of work was dishonest, but it paid. And as Jax always said, better an outlaw than a stiff.

It was raining that day. My last day at work. A life-support machine kept my vitals ticking over. I looked dead, and in a way I was: my spirit was detached, in part, from my body. It was a crime for which I could have faced the gallows.

I said I worked in the syndicate. Let me clarify. I was a hacker of sorts. Not a mind reader, exactly; more a mind radar, in tune with the workings of the æther. I could sense the nuances of dreamscapes and rogue spirits. Things outside myself. Things the average voyant wouldn’t feel.

Jax used me as a surveillance tool. My job was to keep track of ethereal activity in his section. He would often have me check out other voyants, see if they were hiding anything. At first it had just been people in the room – people I could see and hear and touch– but soon he realised I could go further than that. I could sensethings happening elsewhere: a voyant walking down the street, a gathering of spirits in the Garden. So long as I had life support, I could pick up on the æther within a mile radius of Seven Dials.

Soif he needed someone to dish the dirt on what was happening in I-4, you could bet your broads Jaxon would call yours truly. He said I had potential to go further, but Nick refused to let me try. We didn’t know what it would do to me. All clairvoyance was prohibited, of course, but the kind that made money was downright sin. They had a special term for it: mime-crime. Communication with the spirit world, especially for financial gain. It was mime-crime that the syndicate was built on.

Cash-in-hand clairvoyance was rife among those who couldn’t get into a gang. We called it busking. Scion called it treason. The official method of execution for such crimes was nitrogen asphyxiation, marketed under the brand name NiteKind. I still remember the headlines: PAINLESS PUNISHMENT: SCION’S LATEST MIRACLE. They said it was like going to sleep, like taking a pill. There were still public hangings, and the odd bit of torture for high treason.

I committed high treason just by breathing.

But back to that day. Jaxon had wired me up to life support and sent me out to reconnoitre the section. I’d been closing in on a local mind, a frequent visitor to Section 4. I’d tried my best to see his memories, but something had always stopped me. This dreamscape was unlike anything I’d ever encountered. Even Jax was stumped.

From the layering of defence mechanisms I would have said its owner was several thousand years old, but that couldn’t be it. This was something different. Jax was a suspicious man. By rights a new clairvoyant in his section should have announced themselves to him within forty eight hours. He said another gang must be involved, but none of the I-4 lot had the experience to block my scouting.

None of them knew I could do it. It wasn’t  Didion Waite, who headed the second largest gang in the area. It wasn’t the starving buskers that frequented Dials. It wasn’t the territorial mime-lords that specialised in ethereal larceny. This was something else.

Hundreds of minds passed me, flashing silver in the dark. They moved through the streets quickly, like their owners. I didn’t recognise these people. I couldn’t see their faces; just the barest edges of their minds. I wasn’t in Dials now. My perception was further north, though I couldn’t pin down where. I followed the familiar sense of danger. The stranger’s mind was close. It drew me through the æther like a glym jack with a lantern, darting over and under the other minds.

Moving fast, as if the stranger sensed me. As if he was trying to run. I shouldn’t follow this light. I didn’t know where it would lead me,and I’d already gone too far from Seven Dials.Jaxon told you to find him. The thought was distant. He’ll be angry. I pressed ahead, moving faster than I ever could in my body. I pulledagainst the restraints of my physical location. I could make out the rogue mind now. Not silver, like the others: no, this was dark and cold, a mind of ice and stone.

I shot towards it. He was so, so close . . . I couldn’t lose him now . . .

Then the æther trembled around me and, in a heartbeat, he was gone. The stranger’s mind was out of reach again. Someone shook my body.

My silver cord – the link between my body and my spirit – was extremely sensitive. It was what allowed me to sense dreamscapes at a distance. It could also snap me back into my skin. When I opened my eyes, Dani was waving a penlight over my face. ‘Pupil response,’ she said to herself. ‘Good.’

Danica. Our resident genius, second only to Jax in intellect. She was three years older than me and had all the charm and sensitivity of a sucker punch. Nick classified her as a sociopath when she was first employed. Jax said it was just her personality.

‘Rise and shine, Dreamer.’ She slapped my cheek. ‘Welcome back to meatspace.’

The slap stung: a good, if unpleasant sign. I reached up to unfasten my oxygen mask.The dark glint of the den came into focus. Jax’s crib was a secret cave of contraband: forbidden fi lms, music and books, all crammed together on dust-thickened shelves. There was a collection of penny dreadfuls, the kind you could pick up from the Garden on weekends, and a stack of saddle-stapled pamphlets. This was the only place in the world where I could read and watch and do whatever I liked.

‘You shouldn’t wake me like that,’ I said. She knew the rules.

‘How long was I there for?’

‘Where?’

‘Where do you think?’

Dani snapped her fingers. ‘Right, of course – the æther. Sorry. Wasn’t keeping track.’

Unlikely. Dani never lost track.

I checked the blue Nixie timer on the machine. Dani had made it herself. She called it the Dead Voyant Sustainment System, or DVS2. It monitored and controlled my life functions when I sensed the æther at long range. My heart dropped when I saw the digits.

‘Fifty-seven minutes.’ I rubbed my temples. ‘You let me stay in the æther for an hour?’

‘Maybe.’

‘An entire hour?’

‘Orders are orders. Jax said he wanted you to crack this mystery mind by dusk. Have you done it?’

‘I tried.’

‘Which means you failed. No bonus for you.’ She gulped down her espresso.

‘Still can’t believe you lost Anne Naylor.’

Trust her to bring that up. A few days before I’d been sent to the auction house to reclaim a spirit that rightfully belonged to Jax: Anne Naylor, the famous ghost of Farringdon. I’d been outbid.

‘We were never going to get Naylor,’ I said. ‘Didion wouldn’t let that gavel fall, not after last time.’

‘Whatever you say. Don’t know what Jax would have done with a poltergeist, anyway.’ Dani looked at me. ‘He says he’s given you the weekend off. How’d you swing that?’

‘Psychological reasons.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘It means you and your contraptions are driving me mad.’ She threw her empty cup at me. ‘I take care of you, urchin. My contraptions can’t run themselves. I could just walk out of here for my lunch break and let your sad excuse for a brain dry up.’

‘It could have dried up.’

‘Cry me a river. You know the drill: Jax gives the orders, we comply, we get our flatches. Go and work for Hector if you don’t like it.’Touché.

With a sniff, Dani handed me my beaten leather boots. I pulled them on. ‘Where is everyone?’

‘Eliza’s asleep. She had an episode.’

We only said episode when one of us had a near-fatal encounter, which in Eliza’s case was an unsolicited possession. I glanced at the door to her painting room.

‘Is she all right?’

‘She’ll sleep it off.’

‘I assume Nick checked on her.’

‘I called him. He’s still at Chat’s with Jax. He said he’d drive you to your dad’s at five-thirty.’

Chateline’s was one of the only places we could eat out, a classy bar-and-grill in Neal’s Yard. The owner made a deal with us: we tipped him well, he didn’t tell the Vigiles what we were. His tip cost more than the meal, but it was worth it for a night out.

‘So he’s late,’ I said.

‘Must have been held up.’

Dani reached for her phone. ‘Don’t bother.’ I tucked my hair into my hat. ‘I’d hate to interrupt their huddle.’

‘You can’t go by train.’

‘I can, actually.’

‘Your funeral.’

‘I’ll be fine. The line hasn’t been checked for weeks.’ I stood.

‘Breakfast on Monday?’

‘Maybe. Might owe the beast some overtime.’ She glanced at the clock. ‘You’d better go. It’s nearly six.’

She was right. I had less than ten minutes to reach the station. I grabbed my jacket and ran for the door, calling a quick ‘Hi, Pieter’ to the spirit in the corner. It glowed in response: a soft, bored glow.

I didn’t see that sparkle, but I felt it. Pieter was depressed again. Being dead sometimes got to him.

There was a set way of doing things with spirits, at least in our section. Take Pieter, one of our spirit aides – a muse, if you want to get technical. Eliza would let him possess her, working in slots of about three hours a day, during which time she would paint a masterpiece. When she was done, I’d run down to the Garden and flog it to unwary art collectors. Pieter was temperamental, mind. Sometimes we’d go months without a picture.

A den like ours was no place for ethics. It happens when you force a minority underground. It happens when the world is cruel. There was nothing to do but get on with it. Try and survive, to make a bit of cash. To prosper in the shadow of the Westminster Archon.

My job – my life – was based at Seven Dials.

According to Scion’s unique urban division system, it lay in I Cohort, Section 4, or I-4. It was built around a pillar on a junction close to Covent Garden’s black market. On this pillar there were six sundials. Each section had its own mime-lord or mime-queen. Together they formed the Unnatural Assembly, which claimed to govern the syndicate, but they all did as they pleased in their own sections. Dials was in the central cohort, where the syndicate was strongest. That’s why Jax chose it. That’s why we stayed.

Nick was the only one with his own crib, further north in Marylebone. We used his place for emergencies only. In the three years I’d worked for Jaxon there had only been one emergency, when the Night Vigilance Division had raided Dials for any hint of clairvoyance. A courier tipped us off about two hours before the raid. We were able to clear out in half that time.

It was wet and cold outside. A typical March evening. I sensed spirits. Dials was a slum in pre-Scion days, and a host of miserable souls still drifted around the pillar, waiting for a new purpose. I called a spool of them to my side. Some protection always came in handy.

Pre-order the book the here http://goo.gl/RzQcBh

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Publisher: Bloomsbury India

 

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Sneak Preview of ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ (Secretly Written by J.K Rowling)


Pro­logue            68813_495762773837687_1167583344_n

The buzz in the street was like the hum­ming of flies. Pho­tog­ra­phers stood massed be­hind bar­ri­ers pa­trolled by po­lice, their long-snout­ed cam­eras poised, their breath ris­ing like steam. Snow fell steadi­ly on to hats and shoul­ders; gloved fin­gers wiped lens­es clear. From time to time there came out­breaks of desul­to­ry click­ing, as the watch­ers filled the wait­ing time by snap­ping the white can­vas tent in the mid­dle of the road, the en­trance to the tall red-brick apart­ment block be­hind it, and the bal­cony on the top floor from which the body had fall­en.

Be­hind the tight­ly packed pa­parazzi stood white vans with enor­mous satel­lite dish­es on the roofs, and jour­nal­ists talk­ing, some in for­eign lan­guages, while sound­men in head­phones hov­ered. Be­tween record­ings, the re­porters stamped their feet and warmed their hands on hot beakers of cof­fee from the teem­ing café a few streets away. To fill the time, the wool­ly-hat­ted cam­er­a­men filmed the backs of the pho­tog­ra­phers, the bal­cony, the tent con­ceal­ing the body, then repo­si­tioned them­selves for wide shots that en­com­passed the chaos that had ex­plod­ed in­side the se­date and snowy May­fair street, with its lines of glossy black doors framed by white stone por­ti­cos and flanked by top­i­ary shrubs. The en­trance to num­ber 18 was bound­ed with tape. Po­lice of­fi­cials, some of them white-clothed foren­sic ex­perts, could be glimpsed in the hall­way be­yond.

The tele­vi­sion sta­tions had al­ready had the news for sev­er­al hours. Mem­bers of the pub­lic were crowd­ing at ei­ther end of the road, held at bay by more po­lice; some had come, on pur­pose, to look, oth­ers had paused on their way to work. Many held mo­bile tele­phones aloft to take pic­tures be­fore mov­ing on. One young man, not know­ing which was the cru­cial bal­cony, pho­tographed each of them in turn, even though the mid­dle one was packed with a row of shrubs, three neat, leafy orbs, which bare­ly left room for a human being.

A group of young girls had brought flow­ers, and were filmed hand­ing them to the po­lice, who as yet had not de­cid­ed on a place for them, but laid them self-con­scious­ly in the back of the po­lice van, aware of cam­era lens­es fol­low­ing their every move.

The cor­re­spon­dents sent by twen­ty-four-hour news chan­nels kept up a steady stream of com­ment and spec­u­la­tion around the few sen­sa­tion­al facts they knew.

‘… from her pent­house apart­ment at around two o’clock this morn­ing. Po­lice were alert­ed by the build­ing’s se­cu­ri­ty guard…⁠’

‘… no sign yet that they are mov­ing the body, which has led some to spec­u­late…⁠’

‘… no word on whether she was alone when she fell…⁠’

‘… teams have en­tered the build­ing and will be con­duct­ing a thor­ough search.’

A chilly light filled the in­te­ri­or of the tent. Two men were crouch­ing be­side the body, ready to move it, at last, into a body bag. Her head had bled a lit­tle into the snow. The face was crushed and swollen, one eye re­duced to a puck­er, the other show­ing as a sliv­er of dull white be­tween dis­tend­ed lids. When the se­quinned top she wore glit­tered in slight changes of light, it gave a dis­qui­et­ing im­pres­sion of move­ment, as though she breathed again, or was tens­ing mus­cles, ready to rise. The snow fell with soft fin­ger­tip plunks on the can­vas over­head.

‘Where’s the bloody am­bu­lance?’

De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Roy Carv­er’s tem­per was mount­ing. A paunchy man with a face the colour of corned beef, whose shirts were usu­al­ly ringed with sweat around the armpits, his short sup­ply of pa­tience had been ex­haust­ed hours ago. He had been here near­ly as long as the corpse; his feet were so cold that he could no longer feel them, and he was light-head­ed with hunger.

‘Am­bu­lance is two min­utes away,’ said De­tec­tive Sergeant Eric War­dle, un­in­ten­tion­al­ly an­swer­ing his su­pe­ri­or’s ques­tion as he en­tered the tent with his mo­bile pressed to his ear. ‘Just been or­gan­is­ing a space for it.’

Carv­er grunt­ed. His bad tem­per was ex­ac­er­bat­ed by the con­vic­tion that War­dle was ex­cit­ed by the pres­ence of the pho­tog­ra­phers. Boy­ish­ly good-look­ing, with thick, wavy brown hair now frost­ed with snow, War­dle had, in Carv­er’s opin­ion, daw­dled on their few for­ays out­side the tent.

‘At least that lot’ll shift once the body’s gone,’ said War­dle, still look­ing out at the pho­tog­ra­phers.

‘They won’t go while we’re still treat­ing the place like a fuck­ing mur­der scene,’ snapped Carv­er.

War­dle did not an­swer the un­spo­ken chal­lenge. Carv­er ex­plod­ed any­way.

‘The poor cow jumped. There was no one else there. Your so-called wit­ness was coked out of her—’

‘It’s com­ing,’ said War­dle, and to Carv­er’s dis­gust, he slipped back out of the tent, to wait for the am­bu­lance in full sight of the cam­eras.

The story forced news of pol­i­tics, wars and dis­as­ters aside, and every ver­sion of it sparkled with pic­tures of the dead woman’s flaw­less face, her lithe and sculpt­ed body. With­in hours, the few known facts had spread like a virus to mil­lions: the pub­lic row with the fa­mous boyfriend, the jour­ney home alone, the over­heard scream­ing and the final, fatal fall…

The boyfriend fled into a rehab fa­cil­i­ty, but the po­lice re­mained in­scrutable; those who had been with her on the evening be­fore her death were hound­ed; thou­sands of columns of newsprint were filled, and hours of tele­vi­sion news, and the woman who swore she had over­heard a sec­ond ar­gu­ment mo­ments be­fore the body fell be­came briefly fa­mous too, and was award­ed small­er-sized pho­tographs be­side the im­ages of the beau­ti­ful dead girl.

But then, to an al­most au­di­ble groan of dis­ap­point­ment, the wit­ness was proven to have lied, and she re­treat­ed into rehab, and the fa­mous prime sus­pect emerged, as the man and the lady in a weath­er-house who can never be out­side at the same time.

So it was sui­cide after all, and after a mo­ment’s stunned hia­tus, the story gained a weak sec­ond wind. They wrote that she was un­bal­anced, un­sta­ble, un­suit­ed to the su­per­star­dom her wild­ness and her beau­ty had snared; that she had moved among an im­moral mon­eyed class that had cor­rupt­ed her; that the deca­dence of her new life had un­hinged an al­ready frag­ile per­son­al­i­ty. She be­came a moral­i­ty tale stiff with Schaden­freude, and so many colum­nists made al­lu­sion to Icarus that Pri­vate Eye ran a spe­cial col­umn.

And then, at last, the fren­zy wore it­self into stal­e­ness, and even the jour­nal­ists had noth­ing left to say, but that too much had been said al­ready.

 

Three Months Later

Part One

 Nam in omni ad­ver­si­tate for­tu­nae in­fe­li­cis­si­mum est genus in­for­tu­nii, fuisse fe­licem.

For in every ill-turn of for­tune

the most un­hap­py sort of un­for­tu­nate man

is the one who has been happy.

Boethius, De Con­so­la­tione Philosophi­ae

Though Robin El­la­cott’s twen­ty-five years of life had seen their mo­ments of drama and in­ci­dent, she had never be­fore woken up in the cer­tain knowl­edge that she would re­mem­ber the com­ing day for as long as she lived.

Short­ly after mid­night, her long-term boyfriend, Matthew, had pro­posed to her under the stat­ue of Eros in the mid­dle of Pic­cadil­ly Cir­cus. In the giddy re­lief fol­low­ing her ac­cep­tance, he con­fessed that he had been plan­ning to pop the ques­tion in the Thai restau­rant where they just had eaten din­ner, but that he had reck­oned with­out the silent cou­ple be­side them, who had eaves­dropped on their en­tire con­ver­sa­tion. He had there­fore sug­gest­ed a walk through the dark­en­ing streets, in spite of Robin’s protests that they both need­ed to be up early, and fi­nal­ly in­spi­ra­tion had seized him, and he had led her, be­wil­dered, to the steps of the stat­ue. There, fling­ing dis­cre­tion to the chilly wind (in a most un-Matthew-like way), he had pro­posed, on one knee, in front of three down-and-outs hud­dled on the steps, shar­ing what looked like a bot­tle of meths.

It had been, in Robin’s view, the most per­fect pro­pos­al, ever, in the his­to­ry of mat­ri­mo­ny. He had even had a ring in his pock­et, which she was now wear­ing; a sap­phire with two di­a­monds, it fit­ted per­fect­ly, and all the way into town she kept star­ing at it on her hand as it rest­ed on her lap. She and Matthew had a story to tell now, a funny fam­i­ly story, the kind you told your chil­dren, in which his plan­ning (she loved that he had planned it) went awry, and turned into some­thing spon­ta­neous. She loved the tramps, and the moon, and Matthew, pan­icky and flus­tered, on one knee; she loved Eros, and dirty old Pic­cadil­ly, and the black

cab they had taken home to Clapham. She was, in fact, not far off lov­ing the whole of Lon­don, which she had not so far warmed to, dur­ing the month she had lived there. Even the pale and pug­na­cious com­muters squashed into the Tube car­riage around her were gild­ed by the ra­di­ance of the ring, and as she emerged into the chilly March day­light at Tot­ten­ham Court Road un­der­ground sta­tion, she stroked the un­der­side of the plat­inum band with her thumb, and ex­pe­ri­enced an ex­plo­sion of hap­pi­ness at the thought that she might buy some bridal mag­a­zines at lunchtime.

Male eyes lin­gered on her as she picked her way through the road­works at the top of Ox­ford Street, con­sult­ing a piece of paper in her right hand. Robin was, by any stan­dards, a pret­ty girl; tall and cur­va­ceous, with long straw­ber­ry-blonde hair that rip­pled as she strode briskly along, the chill air adding colour to her pale cheeks. This was the first day of a week-long sec­re­tar­i­al as­sign­ment. She had been temp­ing ever since com­ing to live with Matthew in Lon­don, though not for much longer; she had what she termed ‘prop­er’ in­ter­views lined up now.

The most chal­leng­ing part of these unin­spir­ing piece­meal jobs was often find­ing the of­fices. Lon­don, after the small town in York­shire she had left, felt vast, com­plex and im­pen­e­tra­ble. Matthew had told her not to walk around with her nose in an A–Z, which would make her look like a tourist and ren­der her vul­ner­a­ble; she there­fore re­lied, as often as not, on poor­ly hand-drawn maps that some­body at the temp­ing agen­cy had made for her. She was not con­vinced that this made her look more like a na­tive-born Lon­don­er.

The metal bar­ri­cades and the blue plas­tic Corimec walls sur­round­ing the road­works made it much hard­er to see where she ought to be going, be­cause they ob­scured half the land­marks drawn on the paper in her hand. She crossed the torn-up road in front of a tow­er­ing of­fice block, la­belled ‘Cen­tre Point’ on her map, which re­sem­bled a gi­gan­tic con­crete waf­fle with its dense grid of uni­form square win­dows, and made her way in the rough di­rec­tion of Den­mark Street.

She found it al­most ac­ci­den­tal­ly, fol­low­ing a nar­row al­ley­way called Den­mark Place out into a short street full of colour­ful shopfronts: win­dows full of gui­tars, key­boards and every kind of mu­si­cal ephemera. Red and white bar­ri­cades sur­round­ed an­oth­er open hole in the road, and work­men in flu­o­res­cent jack­ets greet­ed her with ear­ly-morn­ing wolf-whis­tles, which Robin pre­tend­ed not to hear.

She con­sult­ed her watch. Hav­ing al­lowed her usual mar­gin of time for get­ting lost, she was a quar­ter of an hour early. The non­de­script black-paint­ed door­way of the of­fice she sought stood to the left of the 12 Bar Café; the name of the oc­cu­pant of the of­fice was writ­ten on a scrap­py piece of lined paper Sel­l­otaped be­side the buzzer for the sec­ond floor. On an or­di­nary day, with­out the brand-new ring glit­ter­ing upon her fin­ger, she might have found this off-putting; today, how­ev­er, the dirty paper and the peel­ing paint on the door were, like the tramps from last night, mere pic­turesque de­tails on the back­drop of her grand ro­mance. She checked her watch again (the sap­phire glit­tered and her heart leapt; she would watch that stone glit­ter all the rest of her life), then de­cid­ed, in a burst of eu­pho­ria, to go up early and show her­self keen for a job that did not mat­ter in the slight­est.

She had just reached for the bell when the black door flew open from the in­side, and a woman burst out on to the street. For one strange­ly stat­ic sec­ond the two of them looked di­rect­ly into each other’s eyes, as each braced to with­stand a col­li­sion. Robin’s sens­es were un­usu­al­ly re­cep­tive on this en­chant­ed morn­ing; the split-sec­ond view of that white face made such an im­pres­sion on her that she thought, mo­ments later, when they had man­aged to dodge each other, miss­ing con­tact by a cen­time­tre, after the dark woman had hur­ried off down the street, around the cor­ner and out of sight, that she could have drawn her per­fect­ly from mem­o­ry. It was not mere­ly the ex­traor­di­nary beau­ty of the face that had im­pressed it­self on her mem­o­ry, but the other’s ex­pres­sion: livid, yet strange­ly ex­hil­a­rat­ed.

Robin caught the door be­fore it closed on the dingy stair­well. An old-fash­ioned metal stair­case spi­ralled up around an equal­ly an­ti­quat­ed bird­cage lift. Con­cen­trat­ing on keep­ing her high heels from catch­ing in the met­al­work stairs, she pro­ceed­ed to the first land­ing, pass­ing a door car­ry­ing a lam­i­nat­ed and framed poster say­ing Crowdy Graph­ics, and con­tin­ued climb­ing. It was only when she reached the glass door on the floor above that Robin re­alised, for the first time, what kind of busi­ness she had been sent to as­sist. No­body at the agen­cy had said. The name on the paper be­side the out­side buzzer was en­graved on the glass panel: C. B. Strike, and, un­der­neath it, the words Pri­vate De­tec­tive.

Robin stood quite still, with her mouth slight­ly open, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a mo­ment of won­der that no­body who knew her could have un­der­stood. She had never con­fid­ed in a soli­tary human being (even Matthew) her life­long, se­cret, child­ish am­bi­tion. For this to hap­pen today, of all days! It felt like a wink from God (and this too she some­how con­nect­ed with the magic of the day; with Matthew, and the ring; even though, prop­er­ly con­sid­ered, they had no con­nec­tion at all).

Savour­ing the mo­ment, she ap­proached the en­graved door very slow­ly. She stretched out her left hand (sap­phire dark, now, in this dim light) to­wards the han­dle; but be­fore she had touched it, the glass door too flew open.

This time, there was no near-miss. Six­teen un­see­ing stone of di­shev­elled male slammed into her; Robin was knocked off her feet and cat­a­pult­ed back­wards, hand­bag fly­ing, arms wind­milling, to­wards the void be­yond the lethal stair­case.

Strike ab­sorbed the im­pact, heard the high-pitched scream and re­act­ed in­stinc­tive­ly: throw­ing out a long arm, he seized a fist­ful of cloth and flesh; a sec­ond shriek of pain echoed around the stone walls and then, with a wrench and a tus­sle, he had suc­ceed­ed in drag­ging the girl back on to firm ground. Her shrieks were still echo­ing off the walls, and he re­alised that he him­self had bel­lowed, ‘Jesus Christ!’

The girl was dou­bled up in pain against the of­fice door, whim­per­ing. Judg­ing by the lop­sid­ed way she was hunched, with one hand buried deep under the lapel of her coat, Strike de­duced that he had saved her by grab­bing a sub­stan­tial part of her left breast. A thick, wavy cur­tain of bright blonde hair hid most of the girl’s blush­ing face, but Strike could see tears of pain leak­ing out of one un­cov­ered eye.

‘Fuck – sorry!’ His loud voice re­ver­ber­at­ed around the stair­well. ‘I didn’t see you – didn’t ex­pect any­one to be there…⁠’

From under their feet, the strange and soli­tary graph­ic de­sign­er who in­hab­it­ed the of­fice below yelled, ‘What’s hap­pen­ing up there?’ and a sec­ond later, a muf­fled com­plaint from above in­di­cat­ed that the man­ag­er of the bar down­stairs, who slept in an attic flat over Strike’s of­fice, had also been dis­turbed – per­haps woken – by the noise.

‘Come in here…⁠’

Strike pushed open the door with his fin­ger­tips, so as to have no ac­ci­den­tal con­tact with her while she stood hud­dled against it, and ush­ered her into the of­fice.

‘Is ev­ery­thing all right?’ called the graph­ic de­sign­er queru­lous­ly.

Strike slammed the of­fice door be­hind him.

‘I’m OK,’ lied Robin, in a qua­ver­ing voice, still hunched over with her hand on her chest, her back to him. After a sec­ond or two, she straight­ened up and turned around, her face scar­let and her eyes still wet.

Her ac­ci­den­tal as­sailant was mas­sive; his height, his gen­er­al hairi­ness, cou­pled with a gen­tly ex­pand­ing belly, sug­gest­ed a griz­zly bear. One of his eyes was puffy and bruised, the skin just below the eye­brow cut. Con­geal­ing blood sat in raised white-edged nail tracks on his left cheek and the right side of his thick neck, re­vealed by the crum­pled open col­lar of his shirt.

‘Are you M-Mr Strike?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I-I’m the temp.’

‘The what?’

‘The temp. From Tem­po­rary So­lu­tions?’

The name of the agen­cy did not wipe the in­cred­u­lous look from his bat­tered face. They stared at each other, un­nerved and an­tag­o­nis­tic.

Just like Robin, Cor­moran Strike knew that he would for­ev­er re­mem­ber the last twelve hours as an epoch-chang­ing night in his life. Now, it seemed, the Fates had sent an emis­sary in a neat beige trench coat, to taunt him with the fact that his life was bub­bling to­wards catas­tro­phe. There was not sup­posed to be a temp. He had in­tend­ed his dis­missal of Robin’s pre­de­ces­sor to end his con­tract.

‘How long have they sent you for?’

‘A-a week to begin with,’ said Robin, who had never been greet­ed with such a lack of en­thu­si­asm.

Strike made a rapid men­tal cal­cu­la­tion. A week at the agen­cy’s ex­or­bi­tant rate would drive his over­draft yet fur­ther into the re­gion of ir­repara­ble; it might even be the final straw his main cred­i­tor kept im­ply­ing he was wait­ing for.

‘’Scuse me a mo­ment.’

He left the room via the glass door, and turned im­me­di­ate­ly right, into a tiny dank toi­let. Here he bolt­ed the door, and stared into the cracked, spot­ted mir­ror over the sink.

The re­flec­tion star­ing back at him was not hand­some. Strike had the high, bulging fore­head, broad nose and thick brows of a young Beethoven who had taken to box­ing, an im­pres­sion only height­ened by the swelling and black­en­ing eye. His thick curly hair, springy as car­pet, had en­sured that his many youth­ful nick­names had in­clud­ed ‘Pube­head’. He looked older than his thir­ty-five years.

Ram­ming the plug into the hole, he filled the cracked and grub­by sink with cold water, took a deep breath and com­plete­ly sub­merged his throb­bing head. Dis­placed water slopped over his shoes, but he ig­nored it for the re­lief of ten sec­onds of icy, blind still­ness.

Dis­parate im­ages of the pre­vi­ous night flick­ered through his mind: emp­ty­ing three draw­ers of pos­ses­sions into a kit­bag while Char­lotte screamed at him; the ash­tray catch­ing him on the brow-bone as he looked back at her from the door; the jour­ney on foot across the dark city to his of­fice, where he had slept for an hour or two in his desk chair. Then the final, filthy scene, after Char­lotte had tracked him down in the early hours, to plunge in those last fewban­der­il­las she had failed to im­plant be­fore he had left her flat; his res­o­lu­tion to let her go when, after claw­ing his face, she had run out of the door; and then that mo­ment of mad­ness when he had plunged after her – a pur­suit ended as quick­ly as it had begun, with the un­wit­ting in­ter­ven­tion of this heed­less, su­per­flu­ous girl, whom he had been forced to save, and then pla­cate.

He emerged from the cold water with a gasp and a grunt, his face and head pleas­ant­ly numb and tin­gling. With the card­board-tex­tured towel that hung on the back of the door he rubbed him­self dry and stared again at his grim re­flec­tion. The scratch­es, washed clean of blood, looked like noth­ing more than the im­pres­sions of a crum­pled pil­low. Char­lotte would have reached the un­der­ground by now. One of the in­sane thoughts that had pro­pelled him after her had been fear that she would throw her­self on the tracks. Once, after a par­tic­u­lar­ly vi­cious row in their mid-twen­ties, she had climbed on to a rooftop, where she had swayed drunk­en­ly, vow­ing to jump. Per­haps he ought to be glad that the Tem­po­rary So­lu­tion had forced him to aban­don the chase. There could be no going back from the scene in the early hours of this morn­ing. This time, it had to be over.

Tug­ging his sod­den col­lar away from his neck, Strike pulled back the rusty bolt and head­ed out of the toi­let and back through the glass door.

A pneu­mat­ic drill had start­ed up in the street out­side. Robin was stand­ing in front of the desk with her back to the door; she whipped her hand back out of the front of her coat as he re-en­tered the room, and he knew that she had been mas­sag­ing her breast again.

‘Is – are you all right?’ Strike asked, care­ful­ly not look­ing at the site of the in­jury.

‘I’m fine. Lis­ten, if you don’t need me, I’ll go,’ said Robin with dig­ni­ty.

‘No – no, not at all,’ said a voice is­su­ing from Strike’s mouth, though he lis­tened to it with dis­gust. ‘A week – yeah, that’ll be fine. Er – the post’s here…⁠’ He scooped it from the door­mat as he spoke and scat­tered it on the bare desk in front of her, a pro­pi­tia­to­ry of­fer­ing. ‘Yeah, if you could open that, an­swer the phone, gen­er­al­ly sort of tidy up – com­put­er pass­word’s Hather­il­l23, I’ll write it down…⁠’ This he did, under her wary, doubt­ful gaze. ‘There you go – I’ll be in here.’

He strode into the inner of­fice, closed the door care­ful­ly be­hind him and then stood quite

still, gaz­ing at the kit­bag under the bare desk. It con­tained ev­ery­thing he owned, for he doubt­ed that he would ever see again the nine tenths of his pos­ses­sions he had left at Char­lotte’s. They would prob­a­bly be gone by lunchtime; set on fire, dumped in the street, slashed and crushed, doused in bleach. The drill ham­mered re­lent­less­ly in the street below.

And now the im­pos­si­bil­i­ty of pay­ing off his moun­tain­ous debts, the ap­palling con­se­quences that would at­tend the im­mi­nent fail­ure of this busi­ness, the loom­ing, un­known but in­evitably hor­ri­ble se­quel to his leav­ing Char­lotte; in Strike’s ex­haus­tion, the mis­ery of it all seemed to rear up in front of him in a kind of kalei­do­scope of hor­ror.

Hard­ly aware that he had moved, he found him­self back in the chair in which he had spent the lat­ter part of the night. From the other side of the in­sub­stan­tial par­ti­tion wall came muf­fled sounds of move­ment. The Tem­po­rary So­lu­tion was no doubt start­ing up the com­put­er, and would short­ly dis­cov­er that he had not re­ceived a sin­gle work-re­lat­ed email in three weeks. Then, at his own re­quest, she would start open­ing all his final de­mands. Ex­haust­ed, sore and hun­gry, Strike slid face down on to the desk again, muf­fling his eyes and ears in his en­cir­cling arms, so that he did not have to lis­ten while his hu­mil­i­a­tion was laid bare next door by a stranger.

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Signing off for now

 

Until next time Geeks.

  

Happy Reading!

 

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