Every Storm Breaks
Water chipped away at the stain in the rusty basin. It ran brown towards the plug hole, like old blood, stinking of metal from the ancient pipework. Jan scrubbed his hands under the faucet, grating his skin with a scouring brush. Over and over. Again and again. But nothing helped. His skin was contaminated. Infested with decay. There was something chilling—a shadow or an absence—lingering in his peripheral vision. Watching. Waiting. He scrubbed and scrubbed. More soap. More water. He noticed his bleeding hands were trembling and forced himself to stop. An emaciated reflection appeared in the shaving mirror above the sink. He lashed around. The bathroom was empty. When he looked at the mirror again he could make out a familiarity in the face. It was him. It had always been him. His head started throbbing. He knew what he had done, even if he could not comprehend it.
The pain worsened. He turned, hitting his legs on the frame of a bed. His feet scuffed against the broken floorboards as he started to pace. This place—this isolated, rotting house—put him on edge. It was too dirty, too broken, too hidden. He was miles away from London and his old life. And he could never go back. It was too late now, everything that was had gone. He’d lost it all. But he’d accepted that when he’d agreed to leave. His home was to be this crumbling cottage in the middle of nowhere, stripped of everything but the barest essentials: water, electricity, dust. The thumping in his head was getting louder, more demanding.
But it wasn’t in his head at all. Someone was hammering on the door. He froze. Behind him, wedged in the corner, was a body. There was nowhere to hide it. Nowhere to hide himself. The hammering stopped and the lock clicked open. Jan swallowed. A man filled the entranceway. He was older than Jan, with a face corroded by malice. Behind him was a teenage girl. Jan found her far more unsettling than her thug companion. He pushed himself to remember their names: Derek and Marie. They were an unlikely pair, drawn together by their only commonality: their powers. They were both Reachers. Just like the other. Jan was afraid of them and what their presence awakened inside of him.
Reachers were outlawed in England. If discovered, they were locked away; with good reason too. Reachers were violent and dangerous. They were cunning and fixated on bringing down society. And here he was with two of them, standing as though they all belonged together. He didn’t understand their powers, or why a part of him revelled in being around them. He was an accomplished surgeon. This wasn’t supposed to be his life. And yet he fitted into it so well. So terribly, terribly well.
If they were surprised to see the dead girl in the corner, they said nothing. Derek cast his eyes over the room with some irritation, but made to clean up the mess without complaint. He manhandled the body as though it were nothing more than a sack of refuse. Perhaps that’s what it was to him. Jan wanted to cry out—to demand he show some respect to the poor departed girl—until he realised he had been the one who killed her.
As Derek left, Marie made a show of sighing in disappointment. Despite being the youngest, she held authority over her companion and seemed to have little tolerance for both him and Jan. She stuffed her hands in her pockets and stared up at Jan. “Sol wants to see you.”
Jan backed away. He didn’t like these people. He didn’t trust them, and he didn’t understand why they had brought him from London to this place. He was dangerous and yet they kept him close, hidden away in a little room in the middle of nowhere, letting him get away with murder. They thrust him into a community full of young, promiscuous women, knowing he couldn’t help himself. And when the inevitable happened they cleaned up his mess, like he was some kind of pet prone to accidents.
How many had died now? He couldn’t recall the early ones, back when it was all too unreal. They were hidden from him, segmented from his rational, human side. It was only his final night in S’aven that he remembered clearly. Meeting with one of the most powerful women in the south and feeling nothing but the desperate urge to take her life. He’d killed her and so many others that night, the trail of bodies blocking his escape out of her lavish compound. It was then he realised he was responsible for the other murders, but he couldn’t turn himself in. He had to run, and Sol had already made contact with him, offering him salvation.
Unable to object, Jan followed Marie out of the room, feeling the mediocre power emanating from her fragile body. They were like the other inside of him, but they were all weaker. He wondered if they knew that and, if so, why they weren’t afraid of him.
The rest of the cottage was much like his room, desolate but liveable. He had arrived the day before in a stolen ambulance, finding the cottage a hub for a travelling community. From their group he had met the now-deceased girl. He wondered what they would do to him, knowing he had killed one of their own, and he braced himself for conflict as his foot struck the hallway.
The front door was wide open, exposing another humid day in the surrounding wasteland. But no collection of mobile homes that Jan could see. There was only one vehicle parked up, the rest memorialised by the imprints in the dirt surrounding the house. The remaining vehicle was the largest of the original group: a trailer housing the community’s leader, Sol. It was Sol who had sniffed Jan out, tracing him through his breadcrumb trail of dead prostitutes. And he had offered Jan an alternative to the path he was on: Join us and we’ll help you.
He’d been a fool to listen.
He didn’t like Sol. The man was corrupt, with a soul as black as the victims that tainted Jan’s memory. He gave off a semblance of agelessness, like some sort of heathen god, with an agenda to match. Jan knew the promises and assurances Sol offered would be tarnished, that he was dealing with a devil. But as much as Jan wanted to break free of this demon, the other didn’t. Standing in front of Sol, with his wild hair and eyes, Jan felt the other lurch and fight to be closer to his consciousness. He fought back, doing his best to keep control of his body and mind.
“The priest is stirring,” Sol said.
When Jan had joined these people in their stolen ambulance, he had shared the vehicle with an unconscious old man on the brink of organ failure. He was hooked to a medicom, which was keeping him alive and repairing some of the damage done to his aged body. Nobody had explained the reasoning of bringing the man—a priest, apparently—with them, but then these people had purposes way beyond Jan’s comprehension. Whatever they were doing was bad, and both Jan and the priest were tied up in their madness.
“It is time for me to leave,” Sol told him.
Jan frowned. Fragmented memories of conversations the other had with Sol played in his mind. The details of the deal they had struck escaped him, but the other knew. And the other was excited, which meant whatever they had agreed couldn’t be good.
“Try to keep the priest alive until they come. Marie will stay here to help you. As will Derek, after he returns from… disposing of things.”
Jan turned to the young girl with Sol. He was struck by a pang of dread. They couldn’t leave a girl with him. The other didn’t like women. They were like his mother—the filthy whore—they weren’t safe with him.
Sol seemed to recognise his fear and was amused by it. “Don’t worry. You won’t be able to hurt her. You can’t hurt Reachers.”
Reacher. He was surrounded by them, but the word still made Jan shudder. The other within was a Reacher, and it scared the hell out of him. Did that make him a Reacher too? He didn’t know. When he was in control he had no powers, but as the other…. His stomach churned at the fragmented memories of dirty alleyways and working girls.
Marie stood stoically by Sol’s side. She’d do whatever her master said. Her arrogance would be her undoing. She thought she was capable of great things, but Jan sensed she was just a pawn and that Sol would dispose of her as easily as the girl Derek was getting rid of.
“Marie will make sure you have everything you need. If things go as planned, you will get your reward in a few days.”
The reward, at least, had stayed in Jan’s head, and the mention of it made the other chatter in his ear. Death was promised, so much death. But death was promised to Jan too. An end to this. It was a compromise, to bring about his own destruction. The other would get enough blood to temporarily appease his insatiable appetite, and Jan would see a merciful end to this madness.
Sol left the house, Marie following him. She was obedient and sharp minded, but barren. A vicious assault by her late stepfather had left her unable to conceive and, at nineteen, there was little else for her now but to assist them in their missions. Sol made the use he could of the talents remaining to her, she was still good counsel and he could rely on her discretion. Derek was his brawn, Marie his brains.
“No more girls,” he told her. “We don’t want the locals to get suspicious and come up this way.”
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t leave the house.”
“It will only be for a few days. Soon enough the targets will be coming.” He checked his watch. “It won’t be long now before Charlie Smith is out of the picture. Without him, the others will be desperate. They’ll come looking for the priest, so make sure he stays alive.”
Sol couldn’t help himself; he was enjoying this. He despised the creature that called himself John Smith. It had been a pleasure to set up his older brother, Charlie. To sneak into the room Charlie was sleeping in and strangle the girl he was with. He’d watched from the side of the road as Charlie was carted off in a police vehicle, knowing in eight hours his former pupil would be sent back to the place he belonged. The satisfaction was overwhelming. For years he had been cultivating his play, moving pieces around in a strategy some thought too complicated to ever see fruition. They were wrong.
Bringing Jan here—the only man who had been able to stop John Smith—was a stroke of genius on his part. And John would follow soon enough, coming after the only member of his twisted little family still accessible to him. The priest meant a lot to the Smith brothers, and Sol would ensure that sentimentality would be their undoing.
Electricity fizzed through the solitary, naked light bulb hanging, off-centre, from the cracked ceiling. It hissed and flickered. For a brief moment the cell went dark. Charlie straightened against the hard chair, ignoring the burning pain in his back and thighs. The light flicked back on, and his hope of waking up somewhere new vanished. A long, dirty mirror built into the opposite wall echoed his troubles. He was pretty sure he was being watched. On the floor below the mirror was a large metal box. A light on the box blinked at Charlie and continued to emit an almost inaudible buzz that seemed to reverberate from the middle of his skull.
He felt as terrible as he looked, and he looked like death. His reflection was a stark reminder of yesterday, but he tried not to think about everything that had led to his current predicament. What happened before he was arrested was irrelevant, at least until he got out. And that was the only question now—how to get out.
John and Rachel—his family—would be searching London for him by now. It was just a matter of time. Time and luck. Eight hours before he was transported, and after that it would be too late. Eight hours to escape or to kill himself. His eyes lifted to the blinking light bulb. He twisted his fingers and the bulb turned. It took more effort than it should, but if he wanted to he could bring it down. If he wanted to, he could use it as a weapon. He just had to decide: who on. Them or me?
Charlie shifted and winced as the pain rolled up his spine. His old knife wounds protested where they rubbed against the cold metal chair. He put his hands on the table. They were bound in plastic ties. His captors knew better than to put him in handcuffs. The plastic fastenings were stuck tight, and there was nothing he could do about them. At least they had left his legs free, although without his crutch he was pretty much useless.
He closed his eyes and instantly regretted it. In the darkness he saw Jess O’Connor’s cold, dead face staring up at him, her body wrapped in the bed sheets they had been sharing. He shuddered and stared back at the mirror. What had happened still confused the hell out of him. He went to bed with Jess—a troubled woman he barely knew—in a moment of drug-induced weakness. When he woke up, she was dead and the cops were at the door. She’d been murdered, that much was obvious, but that meant someone killed her while he was sleeping. It meant they let him live. It meant he was set up.
Before he had time to work it out, the cell door heaved open and his arresting officer stumbled in. Charlie hadn’t caught the man’s name when he was being hauled out of bed and into the back of the police car with a Taser pressed against his back. He hadn’t managed much more than a panicked last look at the corpse he was leaving behind.
“Mr Smith.” The guy’s voice was weary, and he looked nearly as rough as Charlie. He was carrying more weight than was good for a man of his age, with fingers and teeth suggesting a nicotine addiction that would bring that premature heart attack around a lot sooner. Charlie could imagine the jibing his brother was going to give him, knowing a cop like this had managed to bring in the uncatchable Charlie Smith.
“My name is Agent Adams.”
Agent. The word made Charlie’s ears perk up. Not your regular plucky London detective, then. Maybe it wasn’t totally humiliating after all.
“Where am I?” Charlie said.
“You’re in a holding cell in the PCU.”
“PCU? What the fuck is that?”
“Paranormal Crimes Unit.”
Charlie started to laugh, and his chest roared back in pain. “You’re joking, right? Paranormal Crimes? I thought someone made that up.”