[DEAD DROP is available to buy now in ebook form on Smashwords and on the Amazon Marketplace at the following links (UK/US/Ca/Fr/De/Au). The following is a free extract from the novel's 11th chapter.]
With the wind tugging at his hair, Armstrong felt an electric thrill as he increased his speed on the straightening road, but the treacherous surface beneath his tyres reminded him to drive with his head, rather than on adrenaline. The bike was slightly heavier than he was used to, but its winter tyres were designed for traction on slippery surfaces.
The convoy came into view up ahead. It consisted of three vehicles: a military jeep at the front and back, protecting a prison van in between.
The road turned under a perilous-looking icy overhang before starting a zigzagging descent of the mountainside. Armstrong threw a curse into the wind. The sharp corners and downward slope would make controlling the bike more difficult and put him at a severe disadvantage. The lowest stretch of road ran alongside a gaping precipice: a steep price for careless driving.
The prison van slowed as the convoy went into the first turn. The cell in the van's carriage was aerated by a small vent at the base of the back door. The frosty wind blowing through made the metal room like a freezer for the two prisoners inside. They were chained to their benches, hunched over to preserve as much body heat as possible.
'Any luck with the handcuffs?' Geoffrey White said, his words turning to steam as they left his mouth.
'My hands are too cold,' Honora Blakely said.
The hairpin slipped out of the keyhole as she tried to turn it. She swore in exasperation. White picked the hairpin up from the floor.
'Let me try,' he said, 'If I'm going to die on this blasted mountain, it won't be from contracting pneumonia in the back of a van.'
'Try and be quick,' she said, breathing into her hands to keep them warm. 'This cold isn't doing wonders for my complexion.'
He smiled encouragingly at her, though his heart sank at the sight of her lips already starting to turn blue. One of her hands was shaking. Perhaps it was the cold, he thought to himself, or perhaps not. He recalled a similar affliction gripping him during his first year in the war. Youthful spirit was hit hard by the reality of life on the battlefield.
He told himself that she, too, would learn to lock away that part of herself and find something to fill the gap. For he and Armstrong, it had been allowing themselves to be consumed by an addiction to danger. On the brink of death, fear could be vanquished by momentum: they had been too young for their lives to have any sentimental value. He wished he could rebuild that fearlessness, but Honora's presence was a continual reminder of his wife back home, a crack in his armour of emotional detachment. He could not help but feel angry at her for revealing his weakness.
'Are you thinking about Robbie?' Honora asked, breaking him from his thoughts.
'Yes,' White lied.
'You two have known each other for a long time,' she said. 'Why do you think he did what he did?'
'He will have his reasons,' White said. 'He's a clever chap when he needs to be, but his brain was always guided by his heart. Maybe the Americans made him think he didn't have a choice.'
'You have a lot of confidence in him.'
'As you said,' White muttered, twisting the hairpin aggressively in the handcuff lock. 'I've known him a long time.'
The conversation was broken by gunfire erupting all around them. The van began to accelerate as the buzz of a motorbike engine became audible through the walls of the metal cell.
'Speak of the devil!' White exclaimed.
Armstrong's bike was a short distance behind the convoy, swerving across the road to avoid incoming fire from the jeep at the rear.
The convoy kicked up fragments of ice as it thundered down the mountain road, clouding Armstrong's vision. As he attempted to line up a shot of his own, a volley of enemy fire forced him to the other side of the road.
There was not long to go until the S-shaped road turned back on itself for a second time, which would force him to slow down and present an easy target for the soldiers.
He regained his balance and accelerated, slowing only when his front wheel was almost touching the jeep's rear bumper.
He wiped his goggles clean. The soldiers inside the jeep spotted him through back windscreen at the same time as he saw them. He ducked as they opened fire and bullets shattered the glass above him.
A soldier brandishing a handgun leant through the broken windscreen. Armstrong grabbed his arm and steered his bike sharply to the left, throwing the man onto the road behind.
The jeep steered to knock Armstrong down. Armstrong relinquished the accelerator and dropped back. The jeep's wheels crunched against the ice on the side of the road. Armstrong swung his bike to the opposite side, lined up his shot and fired.
The jeep's front right tyre burst. The driver overcompensated for the sudden loss in handling and steered back towards the icy roadside barrier at full speed. The collision with the bank sent the jeep smashing onto its side and rolling across the road.
Armstrong had no choice but to send his bike off-road to avoid crashing into the upturned vehicle. He struggled to gain control of the bike's descent over the icy ridges between the upper and lower sections of the snaking road. Up ahead, the two remaining vehicles in the convoy were entering the final turn.
The soldier in the passenger seat of the remaining jeep had a clear sight of Armstrong. He opened fire with his assault rifle. Bullets kicked shards of ice through the air as the exposed bike slid down the mountainside.
The bike's descent was halted by its wheels colliding with a boulder sticking out of the ground. The soldier in the jeep pulled back inside to reload.
Using what little traction the winter wheels could find, Armstrong lined the bike up with a flat rock overlooking where the road would turn the convoy back towards him. He twisted the throttle. The bike roared as it accelerated towards its target.
The soldier in the jeep opened fire again. The jagged terrain beneath the bike's wheels forced Armstrong to keep adjusting his trajectory to stay balanced at high speed. As the jeep came out of the turn in the road, Armstrong landed the bike on the rock he had been aiming for.
The flat surface acted like a ramp, sending the bike flying through the air. Armstrong hurled himself onto the jeep's roof as the bike smashed through the front windscreen behind him.
The out-of-control vehicle turned towards the precipice at the road's edge. Armstrong scrambled forward, throwing himself off the back of the jeep before it tumbled into the abyss.
Armstrong's jump came up short. His feet scraped across the icy road as he struggled to grip onto the front of the police van. Finding leverage at the corner of the bonnet, he hauled himself up.
The driver leant out of his window with a pistol. Seeing no alternative, Armstrong pulled the gun from his belt and fired. The driver's eye exploded in a shower of blood.
The van swung to the right, grinding into the side of the road. Spikes of rock were thrown the air, cutting bloody gashes through Armstrong's face. He clambered onto the roof. As he glanced back, a turn in the road ahead was about to send the van hurtling over the precipice.
Armstrong leant down pulled open the lock on the van's prisoner cell. The doors flung open. He swung down inside, drew his handgun and shot away the chains binding White and Honora to their benches. They leapt out of the back together, landing on the hard road as the van soared over the edge and plummeted to its explosive end on the rocks below.
'That went quite well, I thought,' Armstrong said as he picked his aching body off the ground, relieved that no bones seemed to have broken.
'So what's the plan from here?' White asked as he and Honora got to their feet.
'First, we check the upturned jeep for any spare climbing equipment,' Armstrong said. 'They're bound to have something in case of breakdowns. After that...'
He pointed towards where the peak of Mount Lambapahar was watching them from behind a cloudy sky.
'...The only way is up.'
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