The Lion & The Unicorn

By Tom Ward

A policeman sets out to investigate a murder in a near-future where bad taste is illegal.

Friday, 2 October 2020

76%! Here's an excerpt from Chapter 2!

Hey everyone, it's been an age since I posted an update. But, the book is now at 76%. In all honesty I was pretty demoralised for a while, but the support the past few weeks has been fantastic. I can't believe we're now just 24% away from hitting the funraising target. Please do consider spreading the word to that friend who loves to read if you can. Or, if you really want to, buying another book for a friend or relative if you've already pledged (you could get their name listed as a supporter, as a surprise). 

I wanted to celebrate 76% with a new excerpt from early in the book. It's a flashback explaining how two of the main characters met, and I think it shows how the book is (unfortunately) more relevant than ever...

 

The Lion and The Unicorn, Chapter 2 Excerpt 

It was raining by the time I got home and, despite the hour, I couldn’t sleep. Instead, I lay there, thinking about Bagby, and how we’d first met. Fifteen years ago, in the midst of the Black Week of rioting across the country, while Manchester, Sheffield, Milton Keynes and the rest burned, it was my job to protect the lives and property of the blameless bystanders caught up in it all. I’d been in uniform just three weeks when the guillotine came down on London; part of the latest batch of foot soldiers they rushed through training to put down the uprising.

We were deployed, newbies alongside professionals, to guard the streets around parliament and Westminster while rioters broke windows along Pall Mall and down in Brixton and up in Camden and east in Dalston. Even with the sudden influx of new police officers and the army reserves driving their tanks down Wardour Street, there was a nervous recognition that we were well and truly outnumbered. Riots had been commonplace for as long as I could remember, but the protestors had not yet been brought together under one banner until then. Sure enough, a messianic figurehead had emerged; a former children’s television presenter who, having grown tired of the unjust excesses of this world, had reportedly seen the light. However he had found his calling, there was something about him that brought people together, the disenfranchised and the dispossessed, the immigrants living in poverty. Before I joined the police – when I could still pass unnoticed in such places – the chatter in pubs, in coffee shops and book shops across London was almost unanimously in support of radical change. And I’ll admit, something had to be done. There was a point when I might have landed in either camp, but the violence made my decision for me. The bombings, the kidnappings and the arson were a step too far in any revolution. And there was no end in sight, despite their leader appearing on television, pleading with his followers to stop the violence and continue the fight peacefully.

Which brought us to Parliament Square, standing shoulder to shoulder with the august buildings, a procession of rioters advancing towards us along Whitehall, brandishing sticks and throwing stones. This was, of course, before most of us carried guns, and I’ll admit that I didn’t much fancy my chances against the crowd with only a stab vest and truncheon for protection. In the end, it didn’t much matter. Before the rioters could reach us, a tank fired over our heads and blew a hole in their front ranks. That’s when the rest of the army boys appeared from behind the Abbey and set up positions for their 50. calibre guns. They started firing into the crowd, their mortars whistling overhead, their rifles answering with a rhythmic tapping, all of this punctuated by the apocalyptic crack and boom of the tank firing again. A few coppers turned and ran away. A few simply took off their helmets and stared as smoke filled the square. All the while, the protestors kept coming, carrying little more than lengths of pipe, or the occasional petrol bomb. They scattered and spread out, pushing forward, ducking this way and that behind cars abandoned by their owners.

A shout shook me out of it. I turned to see two police officers running along the street towards Millbank and Lambeth Bridge. At first I thought the army might shoot them as deserters. Then I realised they were running towards a group of five protestors coming up behind us from the bridge. I ran to assist. I glanced across the river as I reached the parliamentary gardens, seeing columns of smoke. Something hot and fizzing shot past my ear. I tripped and, winded, looked up in time to see a rocket explode against parliament in sparkling greens and reds. It was a firework. The protestors were just children, three boys and two girls, none of them older than twelve. They’d come to join in, firing rockets from two lengths of scaffolding pipe in imitation of rocket launchers.

“Get out of here!” I shouted at them, waving my hand as the ground shook with tank fire.

Four of the kids dropped their ammunition and ran to the cover of nearby buildings. A police officer gave chase. The last child, a boy, took off along Millbank, towards. Lambeth Bridge. The other officers would have reported me had I let him go, so I sprinted after him, across the bridge, eyes focused on the child’s running back as smoke continued to rise over the city. On the other side of the bridge the boy turned left, ran down the steps, then doubled back under the underpass. Hurrying to catch him, I turned too sharply and slipped, sliding on the wet pavement. I looked up as the kid made the other side of the tunnel. Then, a police officer I didn’t recognise appeared and slapped the kid across the face, sending him sprawling back against the wall. I could hear the crack his head made from where I knelt. I could also see that the kid wasn’t moving. The officer seemed either furious or scared out of his wits as he straddled the body and began pummelling his lifeless face.

By now I’d dragged myself to my feet and was running towards them. I shouted a warning then pulled the officer away. He turned and hit me with his truncheon, knocking me down again. He stood over me, ready to swing again, when a gunshot sounded, echoing along the empty tunnel. The officer looked like he was trying to focus on something for a moment, then he dropped the truncheon and slumped to the ground.

I shielded my face with my arm. When nothing happened I put it down again.  A broad shouldered man with close-cropped brown hair was standing there, just inside the tunnel, a small revolver still raised. His face was blank, as though the whole thing had been confusing to him as well. He looked at me then, and for a moment I was certain that my life had come to its end after all. Instead of shooting me, he turned and threw the gun into the river, took a last look at the dead child, then hurried away down the street. I sat on the ground, breathing heavily for a moment or two, then went over to the kid and held my hand to his cheek before closing his eyes, the sounds of the tanks rattling across the river.

I didn’t report what had happened, but of course they found the dead police officer, and of course he received a posthumous medal for bravery. He was one of six new recruits to have died that day. No one asked who shot him. And no one mentioned the boy. But the issue wasn’t finished. Two days later, I was summoned before my sergeant. I was certain it was all over. But when I walked into his office there was the same tall, broad-shouldered man standing beside the desk. A detective’s badge on his belt identified him.

“Congratulations,” the sergeant said, addressing me, my single page police file open on his desk. “D.C.I. Bagby here has personally commended you for bravery during the riots. He is requesting that you join him in the detectives’ squad. Apparently, he witnessed you putting your life at risk in order to disarm a rioter. Well done.” He smiled briefly. “I shouldn’t get used to it, though. No doubt you’ll be back here with us, when all of this dies down.”

Bagby raised his eyebrows in greeting, then stepped from behind the desk. He briefly met my eyes as he said “Come on, kid. We’ve got work to do.”

 

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Simon Haslam
 Simon Haslam says:

this is gripping stuff - really looking forward to having the whole book in my hands

posted 5th October 2020

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