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Face Value Chapter 1

Face Value Chapter 1

Entry for WA Comp: ​Kara Wright and Tien Tran, combat veterans of an elite intelligence unit, now make their living as Private Investigators. Often working the mundane, just occasionally they get to use all their former training. When siblings Zoe and Michael Sterling insist that their middle-aged parents have gone missing, Kara and Tien are at first sceptical and then quickly intrigued; the father, ex-intelligence analyst Chris Sterling, appears to be involved with an elusive Russian thug. Using less than orthodox methods and the services of ex-colleagues with highly specialised talents, Wright & Tran take on the case. But the truth they uncover is far from simple and will shake Zoe and Michael as much as it will challenge Tien and anger Kara. An anger she can ill afford for she is being hunted by others for the killing of a street predator who chose the wrong prey. The only constant in this darkening world is that nothing and no one can be taken at face value.

7

Crime / Suspense / Mystery / Thriller


Author Image

Ian Andrew (Australia)


Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

It wasn’t the prettiest place to die. But then again, where is? She was taking a shortcut through unfamiliar territory. He was running an illegal errand on ground he called his own. Neither would have wanted the street, with its vandalised lights and graffiti-covered hoardings, to be their final view of life. But we don’t often get what we want.

She saw him first. The lone surviving streetlamp dropped a pool of weak yellow light that was just enough to reveal him rounding the corner, fifty yards away on the opposite side of the road. Despite the mild July night he was hunched over, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his green nylon bomber jacket. Strands of straggly blond hair shielded a thin, cratered face. The Doc Marten boots, visible under too-short jeans, made no noise against the uneven, fractured footpath. Save for the lack of a skinhead haircut, he looked like he had stepped out of a documentary on right-wing hooliganism.
In the moment she thought to turn around and go a different way, he looked up, alerted by the click of her stiletto heels. As their eyes met he smiled and sneered simultaneously, his features distorting like a grotesque skull. She knew that turning away was no longer an option.
He took his hands out of his pockets. She could see the left was empty, but the right seemed to be concealing something. Steadying her pace, she shifted the chain-link strap of her clutch bag from across her body, so that it rested on her left shoulder.
He quickened his step and crossed the street. She moved into the middle of the footpath and kept walking, watching. He was a couple of inches taller than her and as he came closer, she could see he was thin and sinewy. Not a bodybuilder by any means, but he looked strong, agile, quick. Like an urban fox, thinner than it should be but capable, furtive, vicious.
When he was a few yards away, she grasped her clutch bag, letting the chain fall from her shoulder and moved to her right to avoid him. He blocked her. She stopped walking and stepped left, placing herself back in the middle of the path. He stepped to his right, directly in front of her again. She stood still and tried to be polite.
“I’m sorry. Please, after you,” she said and extended her left arm to indicate where he should step.
He ignored her and stepped forward. “I don’t fink so.” His accent was rough-edged London. His lips were cracked and looked dry, yet as he spoke, spittle flew from his mouth. It hit her face. She didn’t reach to wipe it away.
He smelt of cigarettes and body odour laced with an underlying stench of stale beer. Pale skin, almost vampiric was stretched over sunken cheeks that cowered under narrowed, dulled eyes. Pock marks had joined to form craters, valleys and crevices etched into his face.
He stepped closer. “I’m gonna enjoy this. Fancy a fuck?” His speed of movement surprised her. His right hand came up and elaborately flicked a butterfly knife open. Its four-inch blade shone briefly in the dim light. He held it just inches from her chest whilst his left hand thrust forward and caught her by the throat. She gagged at the force of his grip and began to feel him applying upward pressure. He was trying to lift her off the ground. She heard a voice from long ago.
‘Kara Wright! How many times do I have to tell you? The first time you should see an attacker’s knife is when it’s exiting from your body. If you see it before then, you know it’s all for show. They’re full of piss and bravado.’
Kara gave a wry smile as the words of her first instructor rang out in her head. She swung her right arm up and over her attacker’s left and plunged the side of her fist down into the bend of his elbow. The downward force ripped his hand away from her throat and she gasped at the release. Simultaneously, she flicked her left hand and arced the short chain of the bag around his right wrist. As she pulled down, his knife hand was drawn away and his whole body turned slightly, forcing his right leg forward. She planted her left foot solidly on the pavement and extended her right foot in a vicious front snap kick.
The four-inch stiletto heel she was wearing punctured the inner side of his right knee. Kara visualised the passage of it as it tore through the medial collateral ligament, sliced between the medial meniscus and passed behind the patella. She held the kick’s form until the tip of her heel came to rest embedded in his anterior cruciate ligament. Her brain ticked off the damage in the time it took to happen.
Her attacker simply fell sideways to his right. The knowledge of the anatomical destruction done to him and the noise of the knife clattering onto the ground were lost in his screams.
‘And remember Miss Wright, when we start, we finish.’
Kara snapped her right foot back, leaving her shoe impaled in the ruptured knee joint. She planted the ball of her bare right foot firmly, stepped slightly back on her left and executed a spinning hook kick. As her body pivoted around, she extended her left heel and met the head of her collapsing attacker in mid-air. The stiletto punctured the soft hollow that marked the pterion of his skull and the screaming stopped. His falling deadweight removed the shoe from her left foot.
Kara stood still, her balance regained. Her core muscles tense but not strained. She could hear acutely the efforts of the night breeze as it caught on the tatters of billboard posters and gently swayed the precariously hanging corrugated sheets lining the backs of abandoned industrial units. She saw, in extreme clarity, the details of her would-be attacker’s face, caught in shock and frozen in a death mask. His mouth shaping a now silent scream. She stayed still and concentrated on herself. Her breathing deepened and the quickening of her heart began to relax and slow. She looked down at her bare feet and mentally ran a checklist of her body. She had no injuries, no damage at all. As her heartrate slowed further her mind geared up and began to assess the options open to her. Giving weight to each in turn, she dismissed them almost as soon as she thought of them. As her heartbeat fully normalised she chose her actions.
Stepping back she reached down and retrieved her bag. Pulling her smartphone she opened an app called ‘1984’. The phone displayed a map of all CCTV coverage within a one mile radius of her current position. A large number of small red dots appeared on the display but only two were near where she was. That didn’t surprise her. There was nothing of value in what was little more than a back alley running through an industrial area. She waited for the phone to synchronise with the cloud-based data. After a short time the two nearest dots adjusted their positions as the GPS fully resolved itself. They showed cameras at the front of a small car yard just behind her to the right. She walked back until she could see the rear of the yard and satisfied herself that there was no camera coverage in her direction. She zoomed in on a cluster of dots to her immediate north. The irony that she stood less than a quarter of a mile from the town’s Police Station wasn’t lost on her. However, she knew the line of sight to her position was blocked by a myriad of warehouses and industrial units. She zoomed the display out and checked to see where she would have last been observed on CCTV. The final coverage was when she had turned off Walden Road. Between there and here were at least ten cross streets and thoroughfares, with each one having multiple intersections and turn offs. There was no chance of anyone being able to conclude that the blonde haired girl in the red heels had come this way. Unless of course they found some evidence.
Kara walked back to the body that lay half on the pavement, half on the road like a discarded mannequin. There was little blood to be seen as the wounds were small, neat and conveniently plugged by her stilettos. She reached back into her clutch and removed a pair of latex gloves and a wad of tissues. Donning the gloves she crouched down and checked the pockets that she could reach without rolling the corpse. There was a ten-pound note in the front left jeans pocket and a half empty pouch of tobacco in the left jacket pocket. In the pouch, on top of the tobacco, was a packet of Rizla…


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • There needs to be more balance between narration and dialogue. Avoid overdoing the narrative and remember that dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Main character
  • Connect us to your main protagonist with a deeper characterization. Could your protagonist have a few more distinguishing character traits?
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Your story makes compelling reading.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
This is good writing. From the outset I was hooked. I thought she was the one who was going to die - so glad she didn't. The action was well written and I could follow it like a film in my mind. Very well done. First class opening to a novel. Can't wait to read more.

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Your story makes compelling reading.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
General comments from your fellow writer 2:
This is a wonderful opening chapter, filled with intrigue and suspense. I never would have guessed that that Kara Wright would annihilate her male counterpart. This makes for a refreshing and unpredictable read, which is every bookworm's paradise. I think you are a talented writer - stylistically your writing is unique and economical. There's no chance of encountering cliches with you (every reader's worst fear). Well done!