Today I have for you an excerpt from thriller Blood, White and Blue.
Love, deception and murder dominate as thriller writer James Silvester delivers the first in the Lucie Musilova series.
Britain is a hotbed of racial tension and economic uncertainty. Only Sir Geoffrey Hartnell, an ageing but hugely respected MP, can bring about a successful resolution to the talks, but a ghost from the past threatens to bring the UK to its knees.
Lucie Musilova meanwhile, is a young woman running out of places to hide. Half British, half Czech and rejected by both countries in the aftermath of Brexit, she meets ‘Mr. Lake’, the eccentric Head of a branch of the intelligence services known as ‘The Overlappers’, and is press ganged into service on the Huxley case.
As events spiral out of control it becomes clear it is not just Lucie’s life that is at stake, but the future of the very nation.
The new thriller from the bestselling author of Escape to Perdition and The Prague Ultimatum, is a gripping tale of corruption and perfect for fans of Luke Jennings, Daniel Silva and Stella Rimington. If you’re a fan of Killing Eve you’ll love this!
It was a few hours later that Lucie found herself negotiating her occasional nemesis, the London Underground. She was an intelligent and capable woman, she had crossed subway systems the world over with comfort, from Prague to New York to Japan. She had navigated wounded and leaderless troops through hostile terrain back to base while under fire, with nothing but the stars for reference, but neither that, nor any of her considerable life experiences so far could put her at ease with the intricacies of the Victoria and Circle Lines. The air was warm and stale, the commuters as impatient as they were ill-tempered, the maps unclear and the attendants, at least the ones she encountered, were surly at best.
Nonetheless, despite her reservations, Lucie found herself on the cramped and uncomfortable train that evening, breathing in a heady mix of fast food, e-cigarettes and other people’s body odour and listening to the unwelcome sounds of someone’s beatbox, punctuated by some of the more extreme political views of her experience being openly opined within earshot. In the days of her youth, Lucie could remember tube rides with her mum when they would both happily speak Czech, while maybe five other languages could be heard up and down the carriage, spoken without any fear of offense being taken or violent reaction being provoked. Sadly, it seemed to Lucie, that sense of ease, or perhaps more that lack of fear seemed to now to be gone, dying along with so much of what she knew to be Britain, in the early hours of 24th June 2016. In its place, hung an ever-present wariness which Lucie saw holding passers-by in its grip, possessing people with an almost subconscious terror of appearing to say or do anything that could be perceived as ‘unconventional’ or ‘non-conformist’, for fear of falling foul of the current standards of ‘Britishness’ now demanded of residents.
The train stopped at her station, the doors opening to their consistent warning to mind the gap, and she followed the horde through tunnels and up steps into the night air, walking the short distance to the bar Della had recommended on the phone. A handwritten paper sign had been taped to the inside of a glass panel on the door which instantly soured Lucie’s mood and rammed back down her throat the uncertainty and worry that had afflicted so many, since the referendum, people and businesses alike: ‘STAFF WANTED’, it read, ‘NO EU’s’.
Stepping through the doors, she saw her new friend waiting at a table, dressed in a black turtle neck, jeans and knee length boots, her hair bunched up atop her head and the mischievous smile firmly in place on her face, emphasised by the red lipstick which now adorned it.
Della stood to welcome her, kissing the air next to Lucie’s cheeks and gesturing her to sit down.
“Rum and coke, wasn’t it?” Della asked, passing a glass full of the mixture, replete with ice, lime and superfluous umbrella to Lucie, who thanked her and clinked it against Della’s own glass, the two ladies taking a sip and returning them to the table.
“It’s really kind of you to take the time to meet me like this,” Lucie said, “I must admit this has all been a bit of a whirl. And finding you all in the flat this morning was a shock to the system to say the least.”
Della grinned in apology.
“Lake always likes to keep newbies on their toes, he’s famous for it.”
“He might have given me a bloody heart attack,” Lucie spat, raising the glass to her lip and taking another, deeper sip. As she returned the glass to the table she felt Della’s hand cover her own, and she turned to see a serious, but concerned look on the older woman’s face.
“Look, I know you won’t be too happy about it, but Lake gave Kasper and I a bit of background on you. I heard what happened to you on that boat, and before, in Afghanistan, so with everything over this last couple of days and what we have to do, I suppose I just wanted to make sure you were ok and welcome you to the team properly.”
“I half-expected he had, and it’s good of you to take the time,” Lucie answered, sincerely, smiling back at her new friend.
The music in the bar began to thump louder, breaking her trail of thought and she took another drink to collect them, leaning in to be better heard. Della offered her the widest smile she had seen in some time, instantly putting her at ease; a sensation that had been alien to her since at least the day she had walked up the gangplank of her ship.
“I’ll bet you’ve had a few questions whiz through your head today,” Della grinned.
“Just the odd one or two,” Lucie smiled back, “first among them what the hell are the ‘Overlappers’?”
“Well,” she began to muse, “we’re exactly what it says on the tin really. Strictly speaking, Five deal with internal security while Six handle external Affairs. Occasionally though there will be threats more indeterminate in source and cross boundary in nature that require a more independent eye, and that’s where we come in.”
“Can’t Five and Six just run joint investigations when that happens?” Lucie asked, sensing as soon as she spoke the words that she was displaying a degree of naivety with her question, a feeling only intensified by Della’s repeated laugh.
“Five and Six don’t really play well together,” she explained, “mainly because they’re two cheeks of the same arse.”
“So, what does that make us? The bit in the middle?”
More laughter emanated from Lucie’s new friend who nodded in enthusiastic acceptance of the analogy.
“Absolutely,” she concurred, “we are officially the arse crack of espionage.”
She raised her glass in mock salute to the new label and Lucie clinked her own glass against hers.
“How long have you been doing this?
“Oh, longer than I’d like to admit,” Della answered, clearly uncomfortable with the subject which she immediately sought to change. “Listen, it’s a bit louder in here than I thought it would be, do you want to finish up and head somewhere else?”
“Absolutely,” Lucie grinned, “and unless London’s changed beyond all recognition then I know just the place.”
A short tube ride and shorter walk later and the two friends were sat in the corner table of a half full bar, just across from a quartet playing their smooth, slow jazz to themselves as much as the punters.
“That’s more like it,” Della grinned, raising her gin and tonic first to the band and then to Lucie.
“I could join in if you like?” Lucie smiled back, holding her Blues harp at the ready in a mock pose which brought a laugh from the older woman.
“Oh, brilliant,” she chuckled, “is there a spot for me?”
“What do you play?”
“The fool mostly, but when I get out of bed in a morning, my
bones click so much I sound like a maraca band…”
The women laughed heartily together and sat back to drink and take in the ambience, Della eventually leaning back in to pick up
their conversation from earlier.
“Lucie,” she began, “I know how this must all feel, believe me,
but don’t let it overwhelm you. You handled a lot worse than this in Afghanistan; you’re smart, you can take care of yourself, you’ll be absolutely fine.”
“Maybe,” Lucie concurred, “but let’s just say I’d not planned to be involved in any more of this ‘Queen and Country’ bullshit, certainly not after the vote.”
“You planned on a simple, quiet existence stacking shelves in Tesco for the rest of your life, did you?”
“Is that such a bad life?”
“Not at all,” Della answered, “but it’s hardly ‘you’ is it?”
“No, I suppose not,” Lucie sighed in agreement. “I just hope this
is all as simple as Lake says it is, that I’m just, slapping a guy with a paint tin in his hands and asking a few questions of an old man. I’m not in any rush to get back involved in the rough and tumble, that’s all.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” Della reassured.
“It’s not me I’m worried about, Della… this is going to sound stupid, and I’m sure it’s nothing like that in real life but I’ve seen spy movies, I’ve read the books; you might not have to abseil into hollowed out volcanoes but sooner or later in this game somebody gets killed, and that’s fine, I don’t mind being the one who dies if it means someone else doesn’t. But if somebody gets killed that means somebody has to pull the trigger.”
Della was quiet for a moment, and Lucie could feel her new friend’s eyes on her, studying her, perhaps for weaknesses, perhaps out of concern, she didn’t yet know her well enough to decide, and neither did she know herself well enough, it seemed, to decide with of those ‘somebodies’ she would rather be.
“Lucie,” Della began after the pause had hung between them long enough, “as far as anyone can tell this is a simple job. Having some keyboard warrior arrested and finding out who’s behind some elaborate prank with official stationary, that’s all.”
“As far as anyone can tell,” Lucie repeated.
“You want a guarantee?” Della laughed, “Sorry darling, I can’t offer you one. All I can say is that this should be straightforward, and it’s not like the old days with the KGB around every corner. That said there are times, I suppose, when lethal force is necessary.”
Lucie cringed, swallowing her own drink, the ice clinking loudly as she put down her glass with a little too much power.
“There’s that damn expression again, ‘necessary’. It’s never ‘necessary’ to kill anyone, Della, never. I was a Chaplain, for God’s sake; have you never heard that bit about ‘Thou shalt not commit murder?”
“It’s not murder if it’s in self-defence,” Della gently countered, gesturing to the barman for another round.
“That’s just your interpretation,” Lucie gloomily responded, “it doesn’t make it true.”
Her momentary silent introspection was broken by the waiter placing another two drinks down in front of them and collecting their empty glasses, which Della took as her queue to offer him a seductive wink.
“Keep them coming and I’ll have a tip for you later,” she grinned up at him, wickedly. “If you’ll keep a tip ready for me too that is?” The young man blushed noticeably and turned back to the bar, an embarrassed smile on his face, while Lucie shook her head and
gave an exasperated smile at her companion’s behaviour.
“It might not be true,” Della said, picking up her previous thread in a heartbeat, as if her brief proposition to the waiter had never occurred, “but then again it might be. But what is true is that if you ever find yourself in that position then I hope you’ll make the right decision and that you can come to terms with that. You have a talent for this sort of work Lucie, you really do, there’s no point
in fighting it, you may as well just lie back, enjoy the ride and…” “Think of England?” Lucie interrupted, a sarcastic smile on her
“Anything that doesn’t bring up your lunch, dear,” Della winked
back. “Oh, and while we’re on the subject of unwavering National pride, don’t let our mild-mannered benefactor Mr. Lake, fool you. I’ve never met a more ruthless bastard than him; he’s so wrapped up in the Union Jack that he threw his own wife off a motorway bridge a few years back when she got mixed up in a case…”
Lucie spat her drink back into her glass at Della’s nonchalant delivery of the bombshell, staring up at the older woman in incredulity.
“He did what?”
“No-one knows all the details,” Della shrugged, her voice irritatingly casual. “It seems she was a double agent playing him for information. When he found out he chased her to the overpass at Knutsford Services and dropped her into rush hour traffic, just outside Burger King. No-one could accuse him of lacking commitment then; in fact, he’s probably the only one of us left in the Service who does it all for Queen and Country, for the Blood, White and Blue…”
“Patriotism,” Della smiled, breaking onto her face, albeit in cynicism rather than joy. “Or at least Lake’s version of it. That’s what he used to call it; he’d say you’d never be at your most effective as an operative until you felt it in your blood, as though Britain itself was coursing through your veins… Not that he’s a ‘my country right or wrong’ sort, he’s too clever for that. But the good of the country – the Blood, White and Blue – that has to mean something to you.”
A frown came to Lucie’s brow and the bitter taste of bile to her mouth as she mulled over Della’s words.
“Stupid expression,” she hissed, her emotions taken a sudden and absolute grip on her. “I’ve had as much of that as anyone should ever have to.”
Della raised her eyebrow in silent encouragement of her new friend to continue and Lucie drained her glass before responding. “It was Afghanistan,” she briskly explained. “When they bring the bodies of the fallen home, they always drape the coffin in a Union flag, as though it makes losing a loved one to some politician’s flight of ego all the easier if you wrap the body in some
final expression of jingoistic pointlessness.”
She looked into her glass and tutted at its empty state as her rant
“A damn disgrace is what it is Della. It turns a funeral into
a pantomime and makes a mockery of everything the flag is supposed to stand for, at least what it was supposed to stand for, before it was hijacked by the wannabe Nazis… believe me Della, I’ve had my fill of the ‘blood, white and blue.”
Lucie felt Della’s hand close over her own and she let it stay there just for a moment without looking up at her, the slow caress of her thumb oddly soothing.
“We’re not all like that, Lucie,” Della’s voice had taken on a tone of clam maturity with an almost maternal inflection that wooed her back from the edge of her dark thoughts. “Some of us just want to do as good a job as we can and try and make this shithole a little bit brighter before we pop our clogs.”
Lucie couldn’t help but laugh and she straightened herself up in her chair finally, sliding her hand back across the table and pushing the hair from her face, tiredness adding to the stress in her mind by stinging her eyes.
“Sorry,” she sighed through her smile, genuinely appreciative of the effort her new colleague and friend had made in meeting her, “I get a bit carried away with myself sometimes.”
“Don’t we all,” Della reassured her, raising the new glass deposited by the nervous waiter. “Here’s to getting carried away.”
James Silvester’s debut novel and sequel, Escape to Perdition and The Prague Ultimatum, reflected his love both of central Europe and the espionage genre and was met with wide spread acclaim. James has also written for The Prague Times and his work has been featured by Doctor Who Worldwide and travel site An Englishman in Slovakia. James lives in Manchester.