Excerpt from Code To Zero by Ken Follett, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Code To Zero

by Ken Follett

Code To Zero
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2000, 368 pages
    Oct 2001, 480 pages

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Bourbon would explain the hangover, Luke thought. "But why would I drink a whole bottle?"

Pete laughed mockingly. "That's about the dumbest question I ever heard. To get drunk, of course!"

Luke was appalled. He was a drunken bum who slept in public toilets.

He had a raging thirst. He bent over a washbasin, ran the cold water, and drank from the tap. It made him feel better. He wiped his mouth, then forced himself to look in the mirror again.

The face was calmer now. The mad stare had gone, replaced by a look of bewilderment and dismay. The reflection showed a man in his late thirties, with dark hair and blue eyes. He had no beard or moustache, just a heavy growth of dark stubble.

He turned back to his companion. "Luke what?" he said. "What's my last name?"

"Luke ... something, how the hell am I supposed to know?"

"How did I get this way? How long has it been going on? Why did it happen?"

Pete got to his feet. "I need some breakfast," he said.

Luke realized he was hungry. He wondered if he had any money. He searched the pockets of his clothes: the raincoat, the jacket, the pants. All were empty. He had no money, no wallet, not even a handkerchief. No assets, no clues. "I think I'm broke," he said.

"No kidding," Pete said sarcastically. "Come on." He stumbled through a doorway.

Luke followed.

When he emerged into the light, he suffered another shock. He was in a huge temple, empty and eerily silent. Mahogany benches stood in rows on the marble floor, like church pews waiting for a ghostly congregation. Around the vast room, on a high stone lintel atop rows of pillars, surreal stone warriors with helmets and shields stood guard over the holy place. Far above their heads was a vaulted ceiling richly decorated with gilded octagons. The insane thought crossed Luke's mind that he had been the sacrificial victim in a weird rite that had left him with no memory.

Awestruck, he said, "What is this place?"

"Union Station, Washington, D.C.," said Pete.

A relay closed in Luke's mind, and the whole thing made sense. With relief he saw the grime on the walls, the chewing-gum trodden into the marble floor, and the candy wrappers and cigarette packs in the corners, and he felt foolish. He was in a grandiose train station, early in the morning before it filled up with passengers. He had scared himself, like a child imagining monsters in a darkened bedroom.

Pete headed for a triumphal arch marked Exit, and Luke hurried after him.

An aggressive voice called, "Hey! Hey, you!"

Pete said, "Oh-oh." He quickened his step.

A stout man in a tight-fitting railroad uniform bore down on them, full of righteous indignation. "Where did you bums spring from?"

Pete whined, "We're leaving, we're leaving."

Luke was humiliated, to be chased out of a train station by a fat official.

The man was not content just to get rid of them. "You been sleeping here, ain't you?" he protested, following hard on their heels. "You know that ain't allowed."

It angered Luke to be lectured like a schoolboy, even though he guessed he deserved it. He had slept in the damn toilet. He suppressed a retort and walked faster.

"This ain't a flophouse," the man went on. "Damn bums, now scram!" He shoved Luke's shoulder.

Luke turned suddenly and confronted the man. "Don't touch me," he said. He was surprised by the quiet menace in his own voice. The official stopped short. "We're leaving, so you don't need to do or say anything more, is that clear?"

The man took a big step backward, looking scared.

Pete took Luke's arm. "Let's go."

Luke felt ashamed. The guy was an officious twerp, but Luke and Pete were vagrants, and a railroad employee had the right to throw them out. Luke had no business to intimidate him.

Reprinted from Code Zero by Ken Follett by permission of E. P. Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Ken Follett. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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