Just a few days now until the release of 88 North, the third in the Nadia Laksheva series. So, here’s an extract involving Jake, in a rather difficult situation as he approaches 88 degrees North…
Jake had always wanted to be on an ice-breaker. Careful what you wish for, wasn’t that what they said? He was in a locked cabin. The single oval window opened, and in theory he could squeeze through it, but it was a sheer drop to the blue ice-water below. Still, like a dog in a car, he found what was outside more interesting than what was inside, so he stuck his neck out again, though he knew he had only ten minutes before his face would numb.
He scanned the landscape – low mountains on the horizon, and between him and them an endless plain of white, occasional swirls of powder snow whipped up by the chill wind, like ghostly tornadoes. Behind, in the distance, tall icebergs, giant shark fins marauding waveless waters. They’d passed close to a big one an hour ago – the captain must been bored, because Jake had been able to see down into the depths as the titanic chunk of ice burgeoned underwater, a solitary brown seal on top staring at him, its large black eyes glinting in the sun that never rose above 10 a.m., and never sank below the horizon at this time of year – which, he had to remind himself, was the height of summer. An almost balmy one at two degrees above zero, the wind chill dropping it to a crisp minus-five.
He’d dived under the ice once, in Svarlbard, north of Norway, where by law you had to carry a rifle because of the ‘ice bears’ as the Norwegians affectionately called polar bears. He’d worn a ten-millimetre wetsuit, and had drifted under the ice, tethered by a line reaching through a hole to the surface. He’d run out of superlatives to describe its stark beauty. But once, for a laugh, his buddy Sven had shoved him into the freezing water when he had no wetsuit on. It chilled Jake just recalling it. Falling in wasn’t the worst part, as long as the shock didn’t kill you. It was getting out, when the wind hit you. Sven hadn’t even apologised. He’d just laughed it off, saying ‘one day you’ll thank me.’
The ship carved its way forward, a blunt knife slicing through an endless birthday cake. Behind was the dappled pattern of broken-up ice floes, which would refreeze within the hour. Up ahead was the mesmerising sight of flat ice being churned up as the atomic-powered vessel chomped its way north.
He glanced down, then behind. Towards the stern was a recessed ladder. The ice was seven metres below his porthole. Quite a leap. But it wasn’t ice. It was freezing, jagged mush, sharp as glass. Added to that, the ladder was close to the stern, and hence to the powerful twin propellers. There would be suction if he fell in. But he needed to check something. He still held his suspicion about what was aboard. He was still an analyst at heart, and an analyst’s enemy is uncertainty.
He needed to know.
He tried to think of anything he’d done in his life that was more risky. He came up with nothing. But it was doable, as long as he didn’t fall in the water. And if he did … it could also be a good outcome. Salamander had something in mind for him, he was sure, and maybe yet another way to twist him into doing it. This way …
He looked up. He couldn’t see if anyone was on deck due to the curve of the ship’s hull. He just had to hope they were busy somewhere. It was 11 a.m. Nobody would be coming to check on him until lunchtime. He put on the spare T-shirt and fleece they’d left for him in the cabin. Then he moved the bed underneath the porthole, spun the two white sheets and tied one to the other to make a crude rope. He fastened one end in a firm anchor knot around the metal bedstead, and wrapped the other end tight around his right wrist.
He imagined Nadia there, her arms folded, a crooked smile on her face, admonishing him for being so unbelievably stupid. It made him smile.
Taking three deep breaths, he heaved himself up, and squeezed through the oval hole, headfirst, feeling like a fish trying to squirm its way through a net. The freezing air blasted his face and hands, and cut through his fleece as if he was stark-bollock-naked in a wind tunnel. Nadia had once said he had balls of steel. He prayed she was right.
With a final grunt, his torso was out. He hung upside down from his knees, the rest of his legs still inside. No going back now. He had to do a crunch, grab the porthole edges with both hands, and worm his legs out. He slid out and got himself the right way up. Hitting the ice headfirst, or diving into the ice-water, only to be sushi’d by the propeller, would be an ignominious end.
The ice-floor grumbled below, chunks of snowy ice the size of a car tumbling beneath him. He would have to land on one, and avoid sliding into the pale blue water ready to embrace him. But he was already getting chilled, and the sheets might not hold much longer. He still had to climb the ladder, which he couldn’t do if he was frostbitten. Gripping the end of the sheet with both hands, he squatted against the black metal hull, like an abseiler, waiting for the right moment.
A bulky, oblong chunk of ice rose as it rolled toward him, two metres below, like a giant domino. He judged the timing, took a lungful, and kicked off, letting go of the sheet. He landed hard, and then bounced off, almost twisting his ankle as his right leg slipped on the glassy surface. He landed hard on his back on another chunk of ice the size of a snooker table, but it began to tip. He scrabbled in the opposite direction, not taking his eyes off the ship as it scraped past. The ladder near the stern was coming. If he missed it … He scrambled to the top of the rolling snooker table. It began to tilt the other way. Shit! Too soon! He had no choice. He leapt towards the hull, his hands slapping it uselessly as he slid into luminous blue.
Available from 14th December. You can pre-order or buy here.
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