Here’s the cover and the opening section of the book. WARNING: there’s some sweary banter in the excerpt below…
Daniel spat out a tooth and looked at the concrete floor. It was smeared not only with fresh blood from that night’s fighters but discoloured a dull brown by the thousands preceding them. The frenzied shouts of the crowd had taken on an almost hysterical quality. Cash was still changing hands as new odds were given, but many inveterate gamblers had forgotten all about the money at stake. This was the most ferocious fight they had ever seen, and the spectators jostled for space around the steel cage containing the combatants.
Many watching felt their hands dart involuntarily to the pockets that would usually contain their phones. Not tonight. Filming was banned, and considering the place was run by Mr Cole, no one had refused to leave their phones at the door. The alternative was leaving their severed heads in a skip.
Looking up from the floor, Daniel raised an eyebrow at Gabe and Sara, who were on the less dangerous side of the padlocked gate. They looked worried. As they should.
Daniel saw Sara’s eyes widen, and he rolled to one side just before his opponent body-slammed the concrete patch he had vacated. He backed away to the far edge of the cage and eyed the man picking himself up from the floor. Man wasn’t really the word for the thing facing him, though.
“Go on, Spot,” called one of the handlers from the front row. Spot. Cute name for a cockerpoo, perhaps. Not so cute for this guy. His head twitched a little when he heard his name. As he stood and shuffled forwards, he focussed on an imaginary mark in the centre of Daniel’s chest. He hadn’t once attempted to make eye contact. Spot was a few inches short of six feet tall, so the top of his head was at the level of Daniel’s chin. His dark hair was shaved. His forehead was large, coming down in a ridge of bone above his eyes that made him look like he was concentrating. Or angry. Or both.
Daniel swallowed, tasting his own blood for the first time he could remember. He looks like a toddler trying to get close enough to a fly to swat it, he thought, as Spot lumbered towards him. The way the man moved reminded Daniel uncomfortably of the two hybrids he had fought in Station. That time, he’d lost three toes, when one of them had chewed his foot.
Not that his limp was giving him a disadvantage now. Spot moved with all the grace and speed of an irritable sloth. Daniel watched him lumber closer and thought of the boxing matches he’d seen on tv as a kid. This guy was no Muhammed Ali.
Float like a butter dish, sting like a twat.
He laughed at the thought as he backed away, and Spot growled. People didn’t laugh when they faced Spot. They screamed. They whimpered. They begged. Eventually, everyone who faced him made no sound at all.
Daniel let Spot get close enough for the mouth breather to take a swing at him. He was ready for the speed this time. He’d been caught off guard before. Too relaxed. Maybe a little bit cocky. After all, Daniel had never lost a fight in his life. At six-foot-four, and broader than any steroid-pumped poser, all but the stupidest hard-cases gave him a wide berth, even when he was trying to be anonymous, hunching over and keeping his head down to make his bulk less noticeable. Now, rather than wearing his usual loose clothing, he was stripped to the waist, his body covered in a sheen of sweat. Slabs of muscle moved across his chest and upper back like tectonic plates. Any normal opponent would be looking for the door.
Spot wasn’t a normal opponent. He didn’t so much throw a punch as detonate one. His fist, held loosely in front of his shoulder, moved faster than the human eye could track. It was all the more difficult to avoid because of the contrast between the speed and accuracy of the punch, and the slowly shuffling creature behind the attack. That first punch had been so unexpected, Daniel had felt his head snapped to the side before he’d tripped over his own feet and fallen.
This time he was as ready as anyone could be when confronted with Spot the wonder psycho. He twisted backwards as soon as the punch was unleashed. Anyone attacking at normal speed would have missed the target as Daniel rolled his head away, but Spot’s right hook landed. It just didn’t land hard enough to do any real damage. It still hurt, though.
Daniel jabbed back with his left hand, hard. Daniel’s jab was capable of breaking solid wooden doors off their hinges, and often had. Used against a human body, it should have been enough to produce massive trauma, requiring a lengthy stay in hospital.
Only, this time, it didn’t. Spot howled, and his eyes took on an expression previously unseen by anyone other than his handlers. Spot was injured. Daniel’s punch had been carefully aimed, hitting him, as Gabe would have put it, “directly in the intercostals.” In layman’s terms, Daniel had planted his fist just under Spot’s armpit, towards the ribs. Gabe had made a careful study of anatomy, and he knew every area of weakness he could exploit in a fight. Daniel had picked up some tips and was trying this one for the first time.
While Spot came to terms with the new concept of receiving, as well as inflicting, damage, Daniel jogged over to his corner. It was a corner only in name, as the cage was no more than a steel fence around a circular area with a diameter of thirty feet. Outside the cage was a gap of five feet, then the barriers holding back the crowd. Each fighter’s team watched from these gaps, as did Mr Cole’s representatives.
Sara held out a towel, and Daniel quickly wiped his face and handed it back.
“What did I tell ya?” said Gabe. “The intercostals. Hurts like a motherfucker.”
Sara was looking at Daniel’s bloodied face and frowning. “Are you going to be okay, Daniel?”
They had been prepared for this mission, briefed at length. It wasn’t simple—no IGLU mission ever was—but it had seemed more straightforward than most. Penetrate the Birmingham underground fighting scene, win enough fights to get an invite to the big one, which was literally underground, as it was held underneath one of Mr Cole’s money-laundering restaurants in the city. Win against his best fighter, get an audience with the man himself, and take him into custody. Mr Cole, whose criminal empire was rapidly expanding, had discovered a new sideline in weapons and was acting as the middleman in deals arming certain terrorist groups. The government had asked for help, the UN had been made aware, and a phone call had been made. Three weeks later, Daniel, Sara, and Gabe had found themselves in Birmingham. Ten days after that, they had received the invitation to tonight’s fight.
The plan had unfolded just as Sara had said it would. Until now.
“Is he—?” said Sara.
Daniel nodded. “Yep. Must be. But there’s something really, really wrong with him.”
“Shit,” said Sara. “Can you handle it?”
“I think so. I hope so.”
“Incoming,” said Gabe, and Daniel turned to see Spot moving in his direction, his eyes pinpricks of rage. The noise of the crowd swelled again, but Daniel could still hear Spot’s howl. It was the sound of a creature who wished to inflict a great deal of violence on the man who had dared hurt him.
“See you in a minute,” said Daniel.
“Wait,” said Gabe, coming forward. “I have a plan.”
Daniel looked at him, then jerked his head towards Sara. “She’s the one who has plans,” he said, “not you. She got the brains, and you got the – nope, hang on, you didn’t even get that. She got both. Hardly seems fair.”
He glanced over his shoulder. Spot was getting too close.
“Look, I’ll take him on a circuit of the cage. Tell me when I get back.”
“If you get back,” said Gabe.
“Funny guy,” said Daniel, and set off, jogging backwards, keeping Spot at a safe distance.
Sara watched him go, chewing her bottom lip. This wasn’t in the briefing. No one had said anything about another halfhero being on the bill. Especially a psychotic halfhero with brain damage.
The paperback copy will follow shortly and, once again, Audible will be recording the audiobook in due course. And I’ll start writing book three of the trilogy on Monday!