The Break

The Break

by Richard Blake

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781910720417
Publisher: Caffeine Nights Publishing
Publication date: 09/28/2016
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.08(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Richard Blake is an English writer, broadcaster and teacher. He lives in Kent with his wife and daughter.

For Hodder & Stoughton, he has written the following six historical novels: "Conspiracies of Rome" (2008), "Terror of Constantinople" (2009), "Blood of Alexandria" (2010), "Sword of Damascus" (2011), "Ghosts of Athens" (2012), "Curse of Babylon" (2013). These have been translated into Spanish, Italian, Greek, Slovak, Hungarian, Indonesian, and Chinese.

In 2015, Hodder & Stoughton republished all six novels in two omnibus volumes: "Death of Rome Saga 1" and "Death of Rome Saga 2."

He also writes for Endeavour Press. His first historical novel for Endeavour, "Game of Empires," was published in May 2015. His next in this series, "Death in Ravenna," was published in August 2016. His latest, "Crown of Empire," was published in April 2016.

In April 2016, Caffeine Nights published his post-apocalyptic science fiction thriller "The Break."

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Though it could hold a dozen oarsmen, the longboat had a draft shallow enough to get it within a few yards of the shore. Jennifer had to clutch hard to steady herself as a sudden ebbing of the waves made it scrape on the shingle. With an easy motion, Count Robert was straight over the side. For a moment, the sea came up to his waist. Then it dropped below his knees.
‘Come on, my Little Bear!’ he cried in Latin. He laughed and said more, but the massive roar of the waves on shingle swamped all other sound. He stepped back for a better position and held his arms out. Jennifer looked for a moment at his teeth, bared in a smile that, with his neat beard, made him look like the predatory barbarian that he really was. But it was either those strong arms or the certainty of ruining a pair of trainers that she’d have great trouble replacing – great trouble, that is, unless the Government was telling the truth about an eventual reversion to normality. She stretched forward and let him take her in a massive embrace. He swung straight round and dumped her on the dark and glistening stones of St Margaret’s Bay. ‘Your father did well to trust you in my hands!’ he added, now speaking above the roar. Jennifer scrambled farther up to the dry stones just in time to avoid another wave.
She waited for Robert to finish squeezing seawater out of his cloak and to take her hand and lead her towards the concrete wall separating the beach from what had once been the car park. She told herself to forget the little grope he’d just given her and sat beside him on the wall. He lit a cigarette and looked up at the sky. Fifty yards away, the boat was rising and falling with every movement of the waves. A hundred yards or so beyond that, the English Channel faded into mist. She looked up to her right. Here, where the cliff separated the bay from Dover, was the most likely point of surveillance. As usual, no one was watching.
With an ostentatious wave he’d developed for showing off to his own people, Robert looked at his wrist watch. ‘Another forty minutes, I think, before the flying machine floats into view.’ He showed her the two inch display. Nine months earlier, her father had offered him something more elegant. What he’d chosen, though, was large and plastic, with a picture of Peppa Pig within its ring of numbers. He’d still done nothing about the alarm. Twice a day, it would play the theme tune and end with a double grunt. It had pleased him at once. His only change since then had been to replace the plastic strap with gold.
‘But where is your father?’ He looked again at his watch and then along the abandoned shore. Jennifer had already wondered that. Ever since the boat had started its swift crossing, she’d been worrying about the degree of the embarrassment that might be waiting – not just her father on the beach, hopping up and down with rage, but her mother too. A clip round the ear for going off alone like this might have been the least she could expect. The one thing she hadn’t considered was that the beach would be deserted. She looked briefly over to where the road to the village was hidden by trees. Robert was right about the timings. The boat had come in on schedule. The little box it carried would jam the radar defences. Another forty minutes, though, and the darkness of the airship against the sky would expose them all to visual inspection by the Border Protection Service and the certainty of an air to sea missile. Robert gave her another of his thoughtful stares. Even without her father there to set him off, he might start picking away at the lies she’d told him five days before.
Out in the boat, the oarsmen were straining to keep it steady with the shore. The monk who’d come over with them was on his feet and praying with outstretched arms towards the accursed shore of England. Robert flicked his cigarette end onto the beach, and, with a sudden scrape of leather on concrete that spoke of his growing impatience, swung over the wall and began walking across the expanse of asphalt towards a heap of canvas. After another look up the hill to see if her father was hurrying towards them, Jennifer followed.
Robert lifted the stiff canvas with one hand and pulled out her bicycle with the other. It was just as she’d left it. Doubtless, the saddlebag still contained the letter of apologies her father had sent her out to deliver. Jennifer looked round again. Still nothing. Robert held up the bicycle and spun the front wheel, admiring how smooth and silently it moved. He put it onto the asphalt and squeezed the brakes. Watching him lean onto the handlebars, she thought he’d get on and try a slow and wobbly circuit of the car park. If he fell off, it would be a loss of face in front of his men. But he smiled grimly and let her take it and prop it upright against a fence. He reached inside his padded tunic and took out a sealed bag about the size and appearance of a deflated football. ‘Do you wish to count it?’ he asked. She shook her head. There was no need for that. Besides, it would only complete the souring of his temper. She took its heavy weight into both hands and put it into her large saddlebag. Yes, if now rather limp from five days in the open, there was the letter she’d been supposed to deliver. She made sure the bag of silver covered it entirely. Robert stood back and watched as she pulled off the woollen robe she’d worn in France. He clicked his tongue appreciatively as she stood before him in her jeans and sweatshirt. In a silence broken only by the crash of another big wave on the shore, she screwed her robe into a ball and pushed it into the saddlebag on top of the purse.
Robert still hadn’t turned back. Much longer, though, and he’d need to be off again. He glanced over at the boat and again at his watch. ‘I feel a strong obligation to come with you,’ he muttered. He turned and stared at the tree-covered road that led up to St Margaret’s. ‘After all, my Lord is the rightful King of England, and I am to have lands here.’ He stopped and reached again inside his tunic, now quickly. But it was only an unhunted rabbit that had broken cover and was hopping across the road. He took aim with his revolver and made a shooting noise with his lips. He blew imaginary smoke from the barrel and put the gun away. He was all easy smiles again. ‘Your company has been most enjoyable, Jennifer, and I look forward to our next little trip – a trip that should be in somewhat different circumstances. At the same time, I was hoping to see your father.’ He looked searchingly into her face, and seemed about to start asking all those difficult questions again. This time, her answers might not come out so glibly as they had first time round. Instead, he reached higher inside his tunic and took out a stained and folded sheet of A4 paper. ‘Do give him this.’ She looked at the small but elaborate script on the outer side of the letter. Though she spoke Latin well enough, Jennifer still had trouble with the radical contractions of anything written by the Outsiders. But the name and titles were clear. She swallowed and gave Robert a scared look. He shrugged and looked away. ‘It is for Master Richard alone,’ he said quietly. ‘Our need to speak with him is becoming urgent.’
She heard a stray noise from the boat. The oarsmen had joined the monk in a long and worried prayer. They had no watches of their own, but knew the movements of the Border Protection Service as well as didn’t matter. Robert went into his business-like tone. ‘I am informed by His Excellency of Flanders that his wife is much pleased by the contraptions that were sent over. So were her ladies.’ He blushed slightly and looked away. ‘They prefer the ones that are called Tampax. Those called Tesco are, I am told, of much lower quality.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Since all the officials in Dover were replaced, the illegal trade out of that port has had problems.’ His face blackened and he pushed his chest out. ‘They may think we are nothing but savages. But we do know when medicines don’t work, or cause rather than cure sickness. I need to sit over wine with your father and discuss many things – many, many things. A much enlarged order is just one of them.’
He might have said more, but the monk was now leaning over the side of the boat and calling in a loud voice. Robert stepped back and bowed. Then, with a bound, he was over the wall and onto the beach and hurrying towards where his men were visibly impatient as well as scared.
Jennifer stood watching till the boat vanished into the dawn mist. Alone, she looked up into the sky. By all appearances, it would be another glorious March morning. Across the water, it would be a morning in June, plus nearly two hours ahead and a different day of the week. But, just as there was no need any more to reset the time after a crossing, it was best not to think about the larger question of the date. It was enough to know that the boat would be half way across the Channel before the mist burned away – and that would be enough, now that Border Protection had given up on sinking anything outside the Exclusion Zone.
Even with no additional weight to carry, the road up to the village was too steep for cycling. Still, she mounted up and pedalled to where, under cover of the trees, she’d have to get off and start pushing.
►▼◄
Once through the village and on to Station Road, Jennifer went into top gear. It was a road of steep descents and rises. But, if she could build up enough momentum going down, she could usually coast all the way to the top again. The main obstacle to this was knowing when to begin swerving to avoid the hole in the road, where, shortly after The Break, someone had filled his car with a petrol substitute, and it had gone up in a ball of flame visible from Ramsgate.
Mostly, she had to keep her eyes on the road for broken glass and other obstacles. Every so often, though, as she sped downhill, she allowed her self to look over the trees and luxuriant hedges that lined the road. It was still barely six in the morning – English time, that is. But she could already see the long lines of people in the fields as they went about the work that had to be done, of guaranteeing the first proper harvest since The Break.
Another ten minutes, and she was at the junction with London Road. Turning left here would take her uphill to the Dover Roundabout where the A2 began. Right would lead down, through Walmer, to Deal. It was at this junction that the local Hill of the Dead had been created. There had been perhaps only five thousand bodies from Deal to be buried. The great majority of those who’d starved to death, or been killed in The Pacification, were from Dover. But it was here that the bodies had been heaped up and covered with earth. Jennifer stopped and looked again at the mound. It was only ten months since the army of diggers had finished their job. Since then, however, three seasons of the year had done their work. Smoothed over and covered in grass, the mound was already becoming as fixed and as natural a part of the landscape as the memorials set up to the lesser catastrophes of war.
It wasn’t even a year – but it might have been a decade, or a whole age, for all that had passed. Jennifer could remember the day, when, after endless assurances in the media that everything was under control, the shops had run out of food. Or, if there was still food, no one had been allowed the fuel to transport it. The looting of homes had begun within hours. It was now that those who’d previously broken the law, and accumulated weapons against a chance of breakdown that few really believed would come, could think themselves lucky. But they were the minority. The begging – by those who hadn’t stocked up, or had lost their stocks at gunpoint, or those who had neither contacts nor things that others wanted to buy – had been pitiable. The frantic pleas of the starving had been terrible to behold – terrible and, once the police began raiding anyone who, by giving charity, showed he had a surplus, quite unavoidable. It had toughened those who had. It had prepared those who had not, but who still managed to survive, for their place in the new order of things. And, once the gulf of The Hunger had been crossed, this new order had emerged as quickly and as logically as the movement of iron filings in a magnetic field.
Jennifer let her eyes rest on the Hill of the Dead. So many times she’d seen it. So many times, she’d passed it by with a shudder, or with indifference. Now, she watched as perhaps fifty labourers were allowed their time for the morning remembrance. There was Mrs Hooper, the lawyer, digging tool in both hands, her lean and toughened body still wrapped in the rags that had been her business suit. There was Jennifer’s Science teacher. His face was in shadow under his hat, and she couldn’t see the branding mark left there after he’d been denounced for cutting down a tree to keep warm. There was the little man who’d used to sell expensive chinaware from a shop in Deal. They were the lucky ones – those who had once gambled on, and appeared to do well from, a division of labour that no longer made sense, and who had survived the collapse of the old world. They stood together in memory of those they had lost, their right hands clenched into fists and beating out on their chests the now customary pattern of despair. But the ruddy man on horseback now rang his bell, and it was back to the endless work of hoeing and trenching and weeding.
Once everyone was back to work, Jennifer looked over the miles of farming land that stretched before her. There was a time when she’d have needed to wait for a gap in traffic that raced in both directions. Though she looked from habit up and down the road, all was peaceful here. The only sound was of twittering birds too small to be hunted, and of trees that sighed gently in the breeze. She turned right, and, squeezing gently on the brakes, was carried downhill again. There was a minute of pedalling as she crept uphill towards the old service station where Slovak immigrants had once earned a few pounds by washing cars. After this, it would be an easy ride back to the coast.
As she reached the edge of the built-up area, she had to give more attention again to the road. The cars themselves had long since been requisitioned for scrap. But quite a few of the owners had made sure to vandalise their property first. Even before then, cars had often been ripped open by armed men to get at the petrol. The road hereabout still had the occasional cube of glass to be avoided. Braking, she lost most of her speed, and was now coasting forward at little more than a brisk walking pace.

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