[DEAD DROP is available to buy now in ebook form from Smashwords and on the Amazon Marketplace (UK/US/Ca/Fr/De/Au). The following is a free extract from the novel's 5th chapter.]
'Tell me what you know about the crash on Mount Lambapahar.'
The Russian spoke slowly, clearly enjoying his position of strength. He brandished his Soviet machine gun in the direction of the smartly dressed Chinaman, Liu, and his muscular lieutenant, Wei.
'I don't know what you are talking about,' Liu said.
He pointed at the man who had followed the Russian into the basement laboratory and was now splashing the walls and floor with liquid from a red cannister. 'What does he think he is doing?'
'We are sending a message to your superiors,' the Russian said. 'And your new allies. What is on top of that mountain will be the prize of the Soviet Union.'
'Our new allies?' Liu said. 'You are not making any sense!'
'Do not try and deceive us!' the Russian said. 'We have been following the British ever since one of our agents was killed. They sent his car over a cliff and made the police report say it was suicide, but we knew it was so they could hide from us their plans for an expedition to Lambapahar.'
'What does that have to do with us?' Liu said.
'We know the British recruited Honora Blakely to work with them,' the Russian continued. 'I shot a tracking device onto the bike of one of their agents leaving the headquarters at Baker Street. I have been following them ever since, from their visit to Blakely House and now here. You have a man working inside her company, who we believe made the arrangements. Then today, everyone arrives to pay a visit to the largest Tong hideout in Europe, which also happens to be a meeting place for your government's foreign intelligence agents.'
Liu laughed. The Russian's face turned red, contorting in anger. He thrust his machine gun towards Liu.
'If you find this amusing, I can think other ways to be entertaining,' the Russian said.
'You are a fool!' Liu said, shaking his head. 'The British came here to plead for their lives. Do you even know who is lying at your feet?'
The Russian looked down at the motionless body of the woman on the ground.
'That is Honora Blakely,' Liu said. 'It was our man in her company who alerted us to what the British were planning. We had her poisoned and she came here to save herself. She brought some British agents with her, but my men will have eliminated them by now. Do you think the Chinese would work with these idiots? They are a faded power, clinging onto what little fragments of their past they can, rather than face the truth of their decline. Your country and mine work towards the same Communist cause. Our enemies are the same. We can make arrangements to suit both our governments.'
The Russian smirked.
'You call me a fool, but it was you who led the British here,' he said. 'And by doing this, you give me the chance to rid the Soviet Union of two enemies at the same time. There will be no talks or alliances.'
He squeezed the trigger of his machine gun. Liu was blasted to the ground.
A war cry filled the air. The Russian lifted his eye from his gun sights and saw Wei's fist flying towards him.
The Russian swung the barrel of his gun around, blocking Wei's karate blow but tearing the weapon out of his own hands.
The Russian's assistant dropped his cannister of gasoline. He leapt to catch the falling weapon, but Wei delivered a kick to the side of his head, sending him skidding across the room and against the back wall, unconscious.
The Russian drew a hunting knife from the back of his belt and stabbed it towards Wei's throat. Wei blocked it with an instinctive deflection and counter-attacked with a punch up at the Russian's chin.
The Russian shifted his weight just in time and the punch harmlessly skimmed the side of his head. An uppercut to Wei's solar plexus sent the Chinaman reeling back, winded. The Russian charged forward and the two men grappled for supremacy in a flurry of kicks and close punches.
'Sorry to break up the party,' said a woman's voice.
The two men froze. Honora Blakely was standing behind them with the Soviet machine gun clasped in her hands.
'How are you not dead?' Wei spluttered.
'That's no way to talk to a lady,' Honora chided. 'Unfortunately for you, your boss was a little too distracted to remember this.'
She dangled in her left hand the Black Lotus' glass vial, which once contained an antidote but was now empty.
'You are a difficult woman to dispose of, Miss Blakely,' Wei said.
'Put that down to my stubborn streak,' she replied. 'Speaking of which, I'm not letting anyone out of here until I have the answers to some questions. The names of the people your governments have sent to Lambapahar, for instance. Oh, and hands up. We mustn't forget our manners.'
The Russian and Wei raised their hands, glancing at one another in apparent hope that the other would talk first.
'Let's not drag this out,' Honora said, lifting the machine gun to steady its stock against her shoulder. 'I'm sure we all have places to be.'
'I have no intention of talking,' the Russian said. 'My men have already set the rest of this building on fire..."
Wei shot him a look of wide-eyed horror.
'...And now that I have not reported, they will come for me,' The Russian continued. 'For these Chinese and you and your friends, the burning ashes will be your burial ground. The longer you stay here, the more certain your death becomes. We all know you won't fire that gun.'
'And what makes you think that?'
'You are young and have no training. I don't believe you have ever fired a gun before. It takes more than you have to murder a man without provocation.'
'Believe me,' Honora said. 'I can think of two boyfriends who have given me plenty of motivation for killing a man.'
She aimed the gun downwards and forced herself to quickly squeeze the trigger.
Bullets smashed into the ground at the two men's feet, making them jump back in shock.
The kickback was stronger than she had been expecting. In the moment it took her to readjust, Wei grabbed hold of the laboratory shelving on the near wall and pulled it down on top of her. She raised her hand to protect herself as the heavy shelves knocked her to the ground, the glass from tumbling jars slicing into her legs and body as they shattered around her.
It was the opportunity the Russian had been waiting for. He pulled a lighter from his pocket, ignited the flame and tossed it into the pool of gasoline next to the discarded container.
As he ran for the door, the basement was consumed in a blinding burst of light and heat. The flames took less than a second to devour the back half of the room, forcing Wei to dive for cover over the central laboratory table rather than be incinerated.
With her body still suffering the after-effects of the poison, Honora started dragging herself out from beneath the fallen shelving. Black smoke began to fill her lungs, forcing tears from her eyes.
As she squinted them open, she caught sight of a boot swinging towards her head.
The impact was explosive, knocking her onto her back and bringing the full weight of the shelves down on her stomach.
Wei collected the machine gun from the floor.
'Before I go, I will finish the challenge you set me and defeat you,' he said, coughing the words through the dense smoke and aiming the machine gun barrel at her head.
Her hand had already scraped together a handful of whatever powder and glass covered the ground beneath her. With what strength remained, she flung it towards where his voice was coming from.
The cloud of dust and debris caught Wei by surprise as it burst into his eyes and mouth. The shock made him instinctively pull the trigger, sending wayward bullets into the ground as he dropped the weapon. He stumbled back, clawing at the mix of chemical powder and sweat that seemed to be burning his face. His foot happened upon a piece of broken glass, upsetting his balance and sending him tumbling into the wall of fire behind.
Feeling like her face was melting under the intense heat, Honora pressed her feet against the ground and pushed as hard as she could.
The heat grew more ferocious by the second, sapping her energy. No matter how much power she forced into her legs, she seemed barely able to move more than a few inches at a time out from beneath the wreckage's dead weight.
The scalding stone floor burnt the palms of her hands and shards of glass cut into her skin as she heaved herself back. The smell of burning wood told her the wreckage had taken alight. Unable to open her eyes, she was kept going by the fear of being devoured by the fire at any second.
A part of her welcomed death, relief from the exhaustion and pain, yet her stubborn streak refused to go without a fight. Hating both her cowardice and survival instinct in equal measure, she kept pushing for freedom.
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