Police officers Quill, Costain, Sefton, and Ross know the worst of London―or they think they do. While investigating a mobster's mysterious death, they come into contact with a strange artifact and accidentally develop the Sight. Suddenly they can see the true evil haunting London's streets.
Armed with police instincts and procedures, the four officers take on the otherworldly creatures secretly prowling London. Football lore and the tragic history of a Tudor queen become entwined in their pursuit of an age-old witch with a penchant for child sacrifice. But when London's monsters become aware of their meddling, the officers must decide what they are willing to sacrifice to clean up their city, in London Falling by Paul Cornell.
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PAUL CORNELL is a British writer best known for his work in television drama, most notably for Doctor Who. Three of his Doctor Who episodes have been nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. He has written several Doctor Who spin-off novels, and created the character Beatrice Summerfield. He has also written for Marvel Comics and DC Comics, and had two original novels published.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Costain entered the service station and stopped when he saw Quill standing there, not even pretending to look at the chocolate bars displayed in front of him. Costain headed for the toilets, and Quill immediately followed, as if he didn’t care who noticed. Costain made astonished eye contact with him just before the door, turning to take in the SUVs he’d left on the forecourt outside, with Mick and Lazlo currently filling up the first two vehicles with diesel. No, nobody was watching. He closed the toilet door behind them.
They stood in the cubicle, with the door bolted: the seat gone, the toilet bowl blocked, everything smelling of shit, a single bulb making it all ghostly white. The cold made their breath bloom around them.
“What the fuck is Toshack doing?” asked Quill. He was speaking too loudly.
“I don’t know.”
“‘I don’t know, sir!’”
“I don’t know, sir. Do you want me to recite my rank, nick and surname, too, in case Lazlo pops in for some fags?”
Quill looked affronted, as if a detective sergeant had never talked back to him in his entire life. He seemed to choose his next words carefully and, thankfully, they were closer to a whisper. “You know how long it’s been for us lot on Operation Goodfellow? Four years now, from you first getting in with Pa Toil’s gang. And maybe you ought to have stayed in the Toil, because now you’re in Toshack’s sodding Chelsea tractor, leading this convoy or whatever it is, and him looking as if he might run for an airport any second.”
“He’s not going to do that.”
“How do you know, if you don’t even know what he’s doing?”
“’Cos he’s looking for somebody. He said we’ll be going house to house.”
“So you do know what he’s doing. But earlier you said you didn’t.”
“I meant that I don’t know what he’s doing in the wider sense, Detective Inspector. I don’t know who he’s looking for—or why. He went off on his own, and couldn’t find them, came back to the Bermondsey house, decided to take us lot with him. He’s off his head tonight, playing with his guns. He’s been at the supply.”
“What, now—as a little treat on New Year’s Eve?”
“His first time. Ask the second undercover, if you want.”
“I don’t want anything unpredictable tonight.”
“Well, what you want—”
Quill put a finger to Costain’s lips. “The top brass are pushing Superintendent Lofthouse to end this right now, understand? Right now, you are the lead UC in the least successful operation SCD 10 has ever mounted in the capital, and that, my son, is a fucking highly contested honor. The boom is going to come down tonight, or tomorrow or the day after. We have run out of money and good will, so the bastards are going to settle just for the small fry. Toshack will laugh his arse off at us again, get off any charges brought against him again, and just a few of his soldiers and toms and lads down the chop shop will get put away, but none of the fucking terrifying ones. The risks you and Sefton have taken for the last four years, and all the working hours of your comrades back at the nick, will have been basically about nothing. And if that happens, I will make sure that you burn. Now, what do you have to say to me?”
Costain licked his lips. Oh, piss off: that’s what he wanted to say. Don’t you think I can see it coming? You’re setting me up to take the fall for this. You’re going to burn me anyway. This fucking insane meeting, with no real excuse for being here, could have been achieved by a brush contact or a dead letter box. And never before had Costain dealt with a DI in charge of an operation who’d even known what he looked like. He’d been sold the lack of a handler this time on the basis that Lofthouse had her own way of doing things, and she had been given the freedom to pursue it this way because of all that Toshack had previously got away with. But now Quill was raising the stakes on him, deliberately pushing him. He made himself take a deep breath, then realized that was a mistake. The coke was roaring through him, putting him in charge, but he knew it made him paranoid too. He had no way any more of telling what was true, but, looking into Quill’s eyes, he knew he couldn’t trust him. “He’s not making a run for the airport. I know it. So tell Lofthouse that’s the opinion of the lead UC.”
“Sefton’s in there with you, does he share that opinion?”
Why do you want to know? “’Course he does. We’ve got a window. In this present state of his, Toshack might start talking about his supply and his connections at any moment, but while I could be listening, you’ve got me in here—”
“’Cos you’ve done everything so well already, haven’t you? You’re in his car and you’ve established access like that, but, over four years, the quality of the information—”
“You think I’ve gone native?”
“Oh, you don’t catch me out like that, sunshine. I wouldn’t dream of using such ill-considered language to a gentleman of West Indian extraction … who’d be on to Professional Standards like a shot.”
If I had a gun I’d put it on his forehead, see him sweat! “I’ve tried to tell you. He doesn’t talk about the bodies he’s dropped, his supply, how he absorbed the other gangs. When it needs to be done, he goes off on his own and nobody goes with him. He must hire freelancers, but we’ve never had a sniff of them. There’s been nothing heard over the lines, and obviously nothing from probably a dozen approaches you haven’t told me about, or you wouldn’t even be here.”
“So why do you think I am at fault, sir?” He let a little of the Guyanese accent creep in, the way a lot of soldiers did when they wanted to act hard. Blam! Quill flew back! Blam!
“Because you’re a wrong ’un.”
“Sefton will have corroborated all of this.”
But, of course, Quill didn’t have a word to say about Sefton. “Wrong ’un, I said, and Lofthouse shouldn’t have picked you.” Quill reached into the pocket of the enormous old overcoat that smelt of mints, and took out a Nagra tape recorder. A bloody Nagra—last century’s recording device of choice. “If I were you, I’d be highly motivated to grab one last chance.”
Costain considered the device for a long moment. “I don’t know when I’d get a chance to switch it on.”
“Do it now, then.”
Blam. Or else bow your head. Fuck it. Fuck him. Costain dropped his jacket onto the hook on the back of the door, pulled his shirt out of his trousers and reached around to attach the Nagra to his belt, at his back. He hadn’t used one of these devices in years, but he remembered the awkwardness of them. He found the little hook on top of the recorder, and flicked it to the On position. Then he tucked his shirt back in and put his jacket back on over it, careful not to touch the hook again. Judges took a dim view of interrupted recordings.
“I am a serving police officer,” he said, making eye contact with Quill, who seemed to be wondering if the UC would remember the necessary words, “who for the purpose of this operation will be known as Anthony Blake. I can, should a court require, produce my warrant card. The date is 31 December. The time is twenty-two-oh-four hours, and I have just switched on the tape.”
Quill nodded to him. “Two hours of tape,” he said. “Last chance—for all of us.” He unbolted the cubicle door. “If the suspect heads for the airport…” And then, mindful of the recorder, he gestured to Costain and then pointed upward with a grim little smile.
Then you make sure you go with him.
* * *
Costain allowed himself another minute after Quill had left. He splashed freezing water on his face. It made him start panting. Quill had set him up to fail. He needed a sacrifice, letting Costain burn. No, no, keep going. Get through it. Work it out.
He walked out on to the freezing forecourt, the warm breath billowing out of his mouth, to the sound of the convoy of SUVs revving their engines. UK Grime beats were pumping out through their open doors. A sample of the Clash looped in and out: “London Calling.” The Asian blokes at the tills were staring worriedly out at them.
Rob Toshack stepped out of the lead car, holding a pistol in his hand. He was beyond caring who saw it.
The Asian blokes dived for cover.
Toshack was red-faced and sweating. He was shivering like an old horse. For a second, Costain wondered if he would find Quill’s corpse lying somewhere out here.
No fear, now. Fear will kill you. Costain made himself become not the hiding, shameful traitor but the star of this picture. With a dirty great supportive soundtrack blasting from those cars, and now this guy with a gun, eyeing him worriedly, not betrayed—nowhere near it—just impatient, and a bit lost, high for the first time in his hard protective old life … This guy hadn’t just shot anyone.
“I was getting worried, Tony,” Rob Toshack explained. “We’re running out of time.”
“What?” Costain went over to the door of the lead vehicle and grinned at his boss. The star of this picture, yes, but never appearing melodramatic. Always the class joker, always relieving the tension that might one day kill him. “I was only having a shit.”
* * *
They raced through the London night, heading for somewhere on the North Circular, up near Neasden. Mick had to swing the car back and forth, every now and then, to avoid the potholes. Not much traffic this late on New Year’s Eve. Rob was keeping the SUV so hot inside that everyone was now in shirt-sleeves. Sefton had somehow managed to move himself up into the lead car, and was now sitting beside Costain. Which was just fucking perfect. The second UC was looking pretend-concerned for Rob, with that round, frigging black children’s television-presenter face of his. Chill out everybody; let’s all be friends and play a rap music game!
Costain made grudging eye contact with him. He held on to it a moment too long, taking some small pleasure in making Sefton start to react. What? Costain turned back to glance at Rob, at that worried drinker’s face, with something weak and unused about the muscles with which normal folk smiled. That lack of tension connected his loose jowls to those lost eyes. The king of London, the first ever. Even gangsters of old, like the Krays and the Richardsons, had had to deal with rivals. Toshack had made his money on drugs and brass, miraculous warehouse and container robbery and high-performance car theft. He was the man for whom it had fallen off the back of that lorry. Or, rather, just vanished from it. It was usually Toshack kit that got auctioned out of cardboard boxes in empty storefronts in the dead-eyed towns of the south coast.
In the last ten years or so, he’d seen off all his rivals or, more often than not, absorbed them. He held actual territory in the thirty-three boroughs, in an age when most Organized Criminal Networks found that much too stressful. He regularly had soldiers coming to him, ratting out their bosses, saying where the money bunched in market folds would be counted tonight. Because everyone knew that in the Toshack OCN you got to do all the posing and none of the getting shot at. It was at that point that Rob would make their bosses a peaceable offer, backed up by some sort of threat, the details but not the results of which were kept from his own inner circle of soldiers. The smaller boss then took the offer and vanished. Always.
Those incredibly efficient freelancers of his.
It made it doubly strange that tonight Rob was out on the warpath with his own people right beside him.
Absorbing soldiers from so many different gangs was how the Toshack set had come to be different from most OCNs, composed of people who’d known each other in the schoolyard, but diverse, like on TV where the producers could imply that these guys dealt heroin but not that they might be a tiny bit racist with it. Costain and Sefton had come aboard when Toshack had taken over the Toil to join Shiv and Mick and Lazlo, the League of Nations. Rob had looked after them, with so many loans and smoothings of the way, and also the taking asides for a little chat that started out with terror, then became about whiskey and good advice from this man who looked at you with eyes that said he’d been there.
Costain liked to feel free. “I’m this guy who’s got no karma,” he’d once said to Rob during one of those whiskey conversations. “Half of what people think there are laws about, there really aren’t. You can do what you like, but people are just afraid.”
“Amen to that, Blakey,” Rob had said, clinking glasses with him.
He loved the freedom Rob gave him. The freedom of someone who could still afford the diesel for a fleet of SUVs. The freedom of someone who was not a victim. Only now he was carrying a burden in the middle of his back that could bring them both down. One way or the other, this free lunch looked likely to end tonight. Costain glanced at his watch. His tape was going to last up to, what … midnight? What was he going to do? He’d put a certain something aside for when he got out of this, and he hoped to God that neither side had discovered that. Was now the time for him to cash in and run?
“What goes around comes around,” declared Rob. Then he turned to look at Costain and Sefton. “Well, that’s not always true, is it? Not necessarily.”
Costain pursed his lips. A sudden memory had been set off by those words, but Quill had planted it in him. Why he always thought he was going to get burned. Because he was the bad guy. The memory went like this: he was leaning closer to one Sammy Cliff, taking him into his confidence after the informer had again ranted on about how he felt about himself, describing himself in the most derogatory terms. “But it’s not about what you are, is it?” Costain had said, making his tone sound like the sort of kindly teacher he’d seen in old movies. “It’s about what you could be. One of the good guys—one of us—fighting the good fight against gang culture. I think it’s time I assigned you a code name, mate. I have been given five randomly generated subject names to pick from, so do you want to choose?”
Sammy had shaken his head, unable to stop himself from looking eager, he’d so wanted to be named.
“I think,” Costain had said, “I’m going to call you Tiger Feet.”
And then he remembered what had happened soon after that: Sammy Cliff hanging there, the burned remains of his feet, of his face.
Costain shoved that memory down again. “Nah,” he said, “you’re right there, Rob.”
“Depends,” said Sefton. “Depends on what he means. What exactly do you mean, chief?” Costain wondered if Sefton knew about the Nagra, if his fucking brilliant strategy now was going to be to ask loads of bloody questions. Like UCs never normally did.
“I mean that, for the last ten years, what goes around hasn’t come around for me. And it won’t come around now, Blakey, Kev, Mick. I’m going to get out of it this time too, like every other time.”
“Sure you are, Rob.”
“I got all of this ’cos of my brother. All down to him, oh yes.” He laughed gently, as if at some irony that Costain himself wasn’t aware of. “I’m not going to let it go.” He hit the button to lower the window, inviting a freezing blast of air in, and shoved the gun out. He fired it in the air and kept firing, with an absurdly precise gap between each shot, as if he was waving a flag that fired bullets. Maybe he expected similar from the convoy behind him, but C...
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