The cellar smelled sour. Freezing air, fetid and damp. He stumbled through the darkness to the door, and fumbled with gloved fingers to unlock it.
Icy night air hit him like a slap in the face, and he saw his breath billow in the moonlight as he pulled on his hat. But now he stopped to listen, before peering cautiously along the alley between cold granite houses, to the street beyond. There was only the occasional car on the boulevard. But the shadows among the trees had taken form. He saw the huddled shapes of half a dozen men. The glow of cigarettes in the dark. And then suddenly the screech of tyres. Lights blazing in the boulevard as several vehicles mounted the sidewalk, doors flying open. A cigarette discarded in a shower of sparks as men came running from the park.
Erik pulled the door shut behind him and sprinted along the alley to the lane behind the house, half-fearing they had sent men round the back. But no—they had not anticipated his forewarning. As he heard the hammering on his front door and the voices calling in the night, he hurried off into the dark, toward an unknown future full of fear and uncertainty.
Agadir, Morocco, February 29, 1960
The view from the ancient city walls down to the harbour below
and the sweep of the bay away to the south, were spectacular.
Yves never ceased to marvel at it. He had been fortunate to get
an apartment in the historic kasbah, a studio in the roof of a
converted riad in the heart of the old town. It was small, but
all that a single man might require. From his terrace, he looked
out over a jumble of rooftops and down into the narrow, shaded
streets below. He loved the life of the kasbah, its noise, its energy,
and he was used to shopping almost daily for fresh produce in
the souk. He enjoyed waking to the sound of the calls to prayer
that rang out each morning from the minaret of the mosque.
Plaintive calls, summoning men to confer with their maker. And
although he was not a religious man himself, there was something
about the spirituality of the ritual that he envied, that his lack
of faith would prevent him ever from sharing.
Today, as he drove out through the old city gates, the view unfolded below him as it always did. But this morning he barely noticed it. The mist gathering along the coast caught the first light of dawn as the sun rose over the desert to the east. Glowing. Pink. The restless ocean washing it up all along the sandy shore. A haze hung over the city spread out below him, new build expanding east and south as the population of this West African port exploded with the success of the Atlantic sardine trade.
But Yves was focused on his rearview mirror. Amid the chaos of motor vehicles and horse-drawn carts and merchants’ barrows in his wake, he caught a glimpse of the black Citröen. He had been watching for it, hoping that in the end it might prove simply to be a figment of an overactive imagination. But there it was. He cursed softly under his breath and followed the road as it serpentined its way down the hill toward the harbour. Fleets of rusting trawlers lined up along the quay, like the sardines that they had brought in overnight.
He glanced out of his driver’s window, up the arid rocky slope and its tangle of pale green desert scrub, to the curve of the road above him. Dust rose from the tyres of the following Citröen. He had first spotted it nearly a week ago. It was probable that no ordinary person would have noticed it. But Yves was no ordinary person. His life possessed only a veneer or normality. There was not a minute of any hour of any day that passed when he didn’t have an urge to glance back over his shoulder. It had become instinctive, as much a part of him as breathing. Always watching, scanning faces, focusing on anything unusual, no matter how small. Always expecting them, knowing that they were out there. Somewhere. Looking for him.
Excerpted from Freeze Frame by Peter May. Copyright © 2010 by Peter May. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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