Friday, 18 September 2015

LAST LINE Excerpt #2: You're Driving Me

[LAST LINE, the sequel to DEAD DROP, will be released in October 2015. The following is an excerpt from the book's seventh chapter. This draft may differ from the final version and some minor changes have been made for clarity.]
The stormclouds darkened overhead as the bike whipped along the narrow country lane. After a few minutes, a sign indicated a turn onto a dual carriageway in half a mile.

Honora wiped away the raindrops whipping against her face. The bike swerved onto the dual carriageway, gaining speed as it veered between beeping cars.

Buchanan's truck came into view ahead. Honora pointed it out. Armstrong nodded as he wove through the traffic.

As they closed the distance to the truck, one of the two gunmen in the back stood up. He shielded his eyes to get a clearer view of the motorbike rattling towards them, then disappeared into the darkness beneath the hard-top roof.
A moment later, Buchanan's face leant out of the cab's passenger door window.

The gunmen reappeared in the back of the truck and opened fire.

"Hang on!" Armstrong shouted, pulling the bike away from the incoming assault. The cars around them swerved in all directions as bullets peppered the road. Armstrong moved onto the hard shoulder as a yellow sedan, its windscreen cracked and bonnet dotted with entry wounds, spun out of control on the wet tarmac. Two cars rammed into it from behind before it came to a halt at the head of a small pile-up. Honora was relieved to see the drivers climbing out safely from their upturned vehicles.

"A little cover wouldn't go amiss!" Armstrong yelled, steering back across the carriageway to avoid another round of fire and narrowly avoiding a collision with a red hatchback.

"Try to keep steady," Honora said. She released her hands from the side of the bike and pulled the assault rifle up from her hip. She rested the barrel over Armstrong's shoulder and squared her eye down the sights, forcing herself not to blink in the swirling rain.

The gunmen fired again. Armstrong held the bike's trajectory as a hail of asphalt kicked up into the air.

Honora squeezed the trigger of her assault rifle, firing single shots to reduce the kickback. Sparks flashed off the frame of the hard-top roof. The gunmen retreated.

Armstrong accelerated as Honora continued providing covering fire. Between them and the truck was a silver sedan unsure how to escape the crossfire. One of the gunmen leant out from under the roof and took aim.

Honora squeezed her trigger again.

The chamber clicked damningly.

"Get in close!" she shouted.

Armstrong closed the throttle. The bike hurtled ahead of the sedan as the gunman unleashed a salvo from his fresh magazine.

The bike drew level with the passenger side of the front of the truck. Buchanan noticed them through his window and mouthed instructions to Dealan in the driver's seat. The truck lurched across the lanes. Its front bumper clattered into the bike's rear wheel as Armstrong accelerated to get out in front. Honora threw her arms around him to stop herself falling. Her empty rifle dropped onto the road.

Armstrong steadied the bike. The truck was behind them. Honora saw Buchanan draw a pistol behind the rain-splattered windscreen. She shouted a warning to Armstrong as Buchanan wound down his window and fired.

Armstrong pulled the bike into the adjacent lane and released the throttle. As the truck passed, he accelerated to match its speed and steered back across the lanes until they were side by side.

Honora leant over and took hold of a ridge in the canopy. The truck swerved again, forcing Armstrong into evasive action. As he steered away, Honora's grip dragged her off the bike, leaving her hanging from the side of the truck with her boots kicking up spray from the road below.

She pulled herself up, ignoring the pain in her bleeding fingertips. Finding a foothold above the front wheel, she took a second to steady herself, then began edging her way around the outside of the truck towards the back.

One of the gunmen leant around the side with his rifle raised. Honora kicked out, deflecting the weapon away as it fired. The recoil tore it from the gunman's hands, sending it clattering onto the road below.

The truck veered across the carriageway in another attempt to knock Armstrong down. The movement was too sudden for the gunman, who lost his balance and followed his rifle in tumbling out of the back. He bounced off the tarmac before the wheels of the car behind delivered the coup de grace with an ugly bump.

Honora climbed onto the roof, holding on against the lash of the wind and rain. She watched as Armstrong dropped back to avoid another attempt at ramming him down. The barrel of another rifle extended from the cargo bed beneath her. With every car sharing the road having put as much distance as possible between themselves and the truck, Armstrong was a sitting duck.

The rifle opened fire. Honora spun onto her back and kicked her foot down, knocking the gun from its owner's hands and onto the road. Armstrong leant down and snatched it up as he sped past, then unleashed a burst of shots back at the truck. Honora heard the clang of a body hitting the cargo bed's metal floor.

Armstrong gave her a small salute. She gestured for him to overtake on the left. He nodded. The bike picked up speed.

Honora dragged herself along the slippery roof towards the cab. In the corner of her eye, she noted a road sign warning of an upcoming bridge.

Armstrong drew level with the front of the truck, matching its speed. He opened fire, shattering Buchanan's passenger window.

The truck steered towards him with Honora still clinging to the roof. Armstrong squeezed his brakes. The truck missed him by a matter of yards, crunching against the barrier at the side of the road before continuing.

The heavy bump broke Honora's grip and her body spiralled towards the road below. She grabbed the edge of the passenger window to arrest her fall, wincing as shards of broken glass stabbed into the palm of her hand.

Buchanan glared at her from inside. As he pulled out his pistol, she found a foothold on a step next to the wheel. He reached out and fired blindly. She pressed her body tightly against the side of the canopy to avoid the two shots. Buchanan leant through the window. His jacket's open breast pocket offered a glimpse of the disk tucked inside.

The door beside her unlocked with a barely audible click. As it swung open, Honora grabbed hold of a railing along the side of the canopy to stop herself falling, managing to keep one foot on the step below.

The truck passed onto the bridge, an enormous concrete structure over a river whose churning waters could be heard through the cacophony of the engine and the wind and rain.

Buchanan had a clear shot at her through the open door. She kicked out, knocking the gun away as he squeezed the trigger. It went off by the side of his head. Buchanan howled and threw his hand up to cushion his ringing ear. Honora took advantage of his disorientation. She snatched the disk from his jacket pocket and began climbing back towards the rear of the truck.

A hand clamped around her wrist as she pulled herself along. Buchanan began tugging her back towards the cab with ferocious strength. She clenched the side of the metal roof as tightly as he could. The rain streaming down the cold metal weakened her grip. She looked back at Buchanan. His face was contorted into an expression of pure hatred. The pull grew ever stronger. Her fingers started to slip.

Gunshots echoed behind her and sparks flew off the side of the cab. Buchanan released her wrist and threw himself back inside.

Armstrong's bike appeared alongside where Honora was dangling by one hand. She stretched her leg over the back seat and dropped down to safety.

"Got it?" he shouted.

"Got it!" she said, waving the disk in front of him.

He squeezed the brakes as the truck made another swing for him, then he steered into the right-hand lane.

"Give me the gun!" Honora shouted. "And go forward!"

"All yours," Armstrong said, passing the gun back to her.

With another burst of acceleration, the bike sped towards the front of the truck. As Dealan's face appeared in the driver window, Honora opened fire. Dealan ducked for cover. Too late did he realise he was not her target.

The rifle's concentrated fire smashed the hubcap of the front wheel, sending it rattling across the road. The truck skewed violently from side to side as the wheel began to come loose. A moment later it disconnected entirely. As the bike accelerated away, the truck upended and the driver side of the cab crunched against the road in a shower of sparks and a shrill metallic screech.