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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They passed through the majestic archway. It was dark outside. A few cars were parked around the traffic circle in front of the station, but the streets were quiet. The air was bitterly cold, and Luke drew his ragged clothes closer about him. It was winter, a frosty morning in Washington, maybe January or February.
He wondered what year it was.

Pete turned left, apparently sure where he was going. Luke followed. "Where are we headed?" he asked.

"I know a gospel shop on H Street where we can get free breakfast, so long as you don't mind singing a hymn or two."

"I'm starving, I'll sing a whole oratorio."

Pete confidently followed a zigzag route through a low-rent neighbourhood. The city was not yet awake. The houses were dark and the stores shuttered, the greasy spoons and the newsstands not yet open. Glancing at a bedroom window hung with cheap curtains, Luke imagined a man inside, fast asleep under a pile of blankets, his wife warm beside him; and he felt a pang of envy. It seemed that he belonged out here, in the predawn community of men and women who ventured into the cold streets while ordinary people slept on: the man in work clothes shuffling to an early-morning job; the young bicycle rider muffled in scarf and gloves; the solitary woman smoking in the brightly lit interior of a bus.

His mind seethed with anxious questions. How long had he been a drunk? Had he ever tried to dry out? Did he have any family who might help him? Where had he met Pete? Where did they get the booze? Where did they drink it? But Pete's manner was taciturn, and Luke controlled his impatience, hoping Pete might be more forthcoming when he had some food inside him.

They came to a small church standing defiantly between a cinema and a smoke shop. They entered by a side door and went down a flight of stairs to the basement. Luke found himself in a long room with a low ceiling-the crypt, he guessed. At one end he saw an upright piano and a small pulpit; at the other, a kitchen range. In between were three rows of trestle tables with benches. Three bums sat there, one at each table, staring patiently into space. At the kitchen end, a dumpy woman stirred a big pot. Beside her, a gray-bearded man wearing a clerical collar looked up from a coffee urn and smiled. "Come in, come in!" he said cheerfully. "Come into the warm." Luke regarded him warily, wondering if he was for real.

It was warm, stiflingly so after the wintry air outside. Luke unbuttoned his grubby trenchcoat. Pete said, "Morning, Pastor Lonegan."

The pastor said, "Have you been here before? I've forgotten your name."

"I'm Pete, he's Luke."

"Two disciples!" His bonhomie seemed genuine. "You're a little early for breakfast, but there's fresh coffee."
Luke wondered how Lonegan maintained his cheery disposition when he had to get up this early to serve breakfast to a room full of catatonic deadbeats.

The pastor poured coffee into thick mugs. "Milk and sugar?"

Luke did not know whether he liked milk and sugar in his coffee. "Yes, thank you," he said, guessing. He accepted the mug and sipped the coffee. It tasted sickeningly creamy and sweet. He guessed he normally took it black. But it assuaged his hunger, and he drank it all quickly.

"We'll have a word of prayer in a few minutes," said the pastor. "By the time we're done, Mrs. Lonegan's famous oatmeal should be cooked to perfection."

Luke decided his suspicion had been unworthy. Pastor Lonegan was what he seemed, a cheerful guy who liked to help people.

Luke and Pete sat at the rough plank table, and Luke studied his companion. Until now, he had noticed only the dirty face and ragged clothes. Now he saw that Pete had none of the marks of a long-term drunk: no broken veins, no dry skin flaking off the face, no cuts or bruises. Perhaps he was too young-only about twenty-five, Luke guessed. But Pete was slightly disfigured. He had a dark red birthmark that ran from his right ear to his jawline. His teeth were uneven and discolored. The dark moustache had probably been grown to distract attention from his bad teeth, back in the days when he cared about his appearance. Luke sensed suppressed anger in him. He guessed that Pete resented the world, maybe for making him ugly, maybe for some other reason. He probably had a theory that the country was being ruined by some group he hated: Chinese immigrants, or uppity Negroes, or a shadowy club of ten rich men who secretly controlled the stock market.

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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