Missed chapter one? We can fix that! Jump to the link to read No One Predicted the Bin now!
Lovely people, we are now less that a week from discovering just what happened in London, and I can’t wait to share the whole story with you, mysterious ducks, hungry bins, and all.
But if you’re not sure it’s quite for you, here’s chapter two to give you a little more of a glimpse into those mysterious bins …
Don’t forget that you can pre-order at your favourite retailer any time, and your book will appear like duck-magic on your ereader on Friday! Plus paperbacks are now available to order via the same link, or ask your friendly indie bookshop if they might order it in for you using the ISBN 978-0-473-66810-5.
And now I shall get out of the way and let you get reading.
Keep your chocolate close and your duck closer, and mind the snap-snap-snap …
Baton. Light. Chocolate. Duck.
This is not DS Adams’ usual kit. This is not DS Adams’ usual case. She doesn’t think it’s anyone’s usual case, not with the vanishing children and the looming bridge and the hungry river. Not with the snap-snap-snap.
But six kids are missing, and she’s not going to let there be a seventh. Not on her watch. And she knows how to handle human monsters, after all. How different can this really be?
So: Baton. Light. Chocolate. And the bloody duck.
Let’s be having you, then.
What Happened in London
Ch 2: Don’t Fall For the Doughnuts
On the far side of the bridge there was a sense of having stepped into a different postcode. The path continued, well-kept and with lights leaning protectively over it at regular intervals, but rather than the crowded joviality of the Christmas market and the gloss of bars and restaurants beyond, an embankment swelled up to divide the path from the road. Bushes pocked it, straggling into untended shrubs, and it looked as if it had been planned as some sort of park. Nicely spaced benches faced across the Thames, but the wind channelled along here with too much purpose for DS Adams to imagine anyone wanting to sit on them, even on a good day. Right now she may as well have been sprinting into a wind tunnel.
Her quarry raced through the bushes with his hands held high, as if he were trying to prove his innocence – or at least his weaponless status – while also trying to put as much distance between him and DS Adams as he could. The nearest light was broken, rendering the passage through the bushes treacherous and tangled, but Adams charged straight through them anyway, trying not to think about what she was stepping in.
“Stop!” she shouted, as they neared the road. “Met Police!”
The person ahead didn’t stop. They bolted straight across the bike lane, making a woman in skinny jeans and a dramatically flowing scarf yelp as she swerved, and the fleeing figure shot through a gap in the traffic with their skinny ankles and bare feet flashing under the cuffs of a lime green one-piece ski suit.
For one moment Adams considered just letting them go, because they certainly weren’t dragging any kids with them, but there was still a chance they’d seen something. You didn’t run from the police for no reason. And right now she was willing to try anything, because that made five kids. Alfie made five.
She went across the road as fast as she dared, dodging cars that swerved and braked in alarm. It wasn’t busy, at least, and as she hit the pavement on the other side she saw her quarry plunging into a narrow alley between the worn-down buildings. Even right on the Thames, you didn’t have to go far to find the pockets that hadn’t quite made it onto the developers’ drawing boards yet, or been populated by those determined to reenergise places that had never had much energy in the first place. The stained brick buildings looked across the road at the river with blank faces, their doors scarred, some of the windows lit and others boarded. She hesitated at the corner of the alley, checking for ambush, but it was empty, just graffiti blooming across the brick. It was rough, shouting stuff, less art than screams of fury and dislocation, rendered in dripping paint on the old walls.
The alley carried the usual reek of rotting food and human waste, damp and hurt and weariness. Adams wrinkled her nose, breathing shallowly, and padded in cautiously, checking for doorways and hiding places. The alley ended at a T-junction, a slightly brighter and wider passage running across it at right angles. It seemed empty, the walls smooth and devoid of places to lurk, but the skin on the back of Adams’ neck was tight and prickling, and the light seemed somehow wrong, a low yellow sogginess that cast the shadows in sagging, unfamiliar angles.
To her right, the alley ran on behind the buildings, but she couldn’t see any skinny green form racing down it. To her left the stretch of old, potholed tarmac finished in a dead end only ten metres or so away, and that was where the bin sat. Just a big commercial bin, grey and featureless. She couldn’t see any shops it might belong to, or even the back doors to any buildings. It just crouched there, its lid firmly shut, and it was just a bin, for God’s sake.
Except that she couldn’t shake the feeling it was watching her. She scowled at it, then looked the other way down the alley.
“DS Adams, Met Police,” she tried again. “No one’s in trouble here. I just want to talk to you.”
No one replied. There was only a heavy, expectant silence that made her swallow hard, her throat clicking. She keyed her radio. “DI Mirza, DS Adams,” she tried.
There was no answer, not even the spit of static, and she clicked the mic a couple of times, but there was nothing. Maybe the battery had died, although it had been fully charged when she left the car. She fished in her pockets instead, coming out with her telescopic baton in one hand and her phone in the other, and put her back to a wall as she snapped open the baton. The noise rang dully against the brick and stone.
And then she looked back at the bin.
There was definitely something off about the bin.
It was closer, for a start.
There was a moment, leaning there against the wall and scowling at the large, grey bin with its four wheels and slightly crooked lid (because they were always crooked, and she half-thought they came out of the factory like that), where she wondered if she really did need to stop drinking so much coffee. Or get more sleep. Or … she didn’t know. Meditate, or something. Because she was seriously considering the possibility that the bin was not only creeping closer, but possibly had nefarious designs on her.
She pointed a finger at it, barely stopping herself from saying, “Stay,” as if the thing were a badly trained terrier, then unlocked her phone and hit Zahid’s number. The phone bleeped in her ear sadly, and she took it away to give it a disbelieving look. No service.
“You’re kidding me,” she muttered, then shivered at the way the words fell dead around her. For the first time she was aware of how quiet it was in here. Not the usual city quiet, underscored by the rustle and hum of countless lives being lived just beyond the walls, the constant background of traffic and footfalls and sirens and planes hurtling past far overhead. No, this was an entirely different sort of quiet. It was the quiet of something waiting to happen, and she examined the bin again.
Was it closer still? It had been right up against the dead end just before, and then it had been a few metres from the wall, and now it seemed to be halfway down the alley toward her. But that wasn’t possible. Bins didn’t move. Unless there was someone behind it, pushing it? She took a wary look behind her, back the way she’d come, then down the T-junction in the opposite direction to the bin. A small, niggling voice at the back of her mind assured her she should have been able to see out to a street or something that way, but instead the cobbles (and why was it cobbled? That was a bit flashy for this part of town, wasn’t it? To still have cobbles? They’d usually been tarmacked over, or at least gunged up with dirt, but no, here were cobbles) seemed to just stretch on into darkness.
“Bollocks to this,” she told the quiet night, then wished she hadn’t. That was too close to talking to herself. She dropped to her knees and peered up the alley to the dead end, toward the bin, expecting to see bare feet behind it.
There was nothing, and as she stood up again, brushing her knees off, the bin creaked. She stopped, hands still hovering over her trousers. The bin creaked again, and now she was sure it was closer. It couldn’t be, though. Could it?
“No,” she muttered, the word falling flat. “No, what’s wrong with me? It’s just a bin.” It couldn’t move. Not unless … there was a slope. There had to be a slope, even if it was a very slight one, so slight she couldn’t see it. Or— she almost hit her forehead with the palm of her hand, but that was too theatrical for even an empty alley. Of course. She really did need more sleep, not to have seen this straightaway. Ski Suit had run in here and jumped in the bin, and their momentum was what was moving it. If there was a tiny slope, it’d keep moving, too. All she had to do was open the top.
“You,” she said to the bin, putting her full authority into the word, then hesitated. “But I’d have heard the lid go.”
There was no response to that. Not that she expected one, of course. Although the damn thing still seemed to be looking at her.
“It’s just a bin. You’re just a bin.” She took a deep breath, and addressed the missing Ski Suit, because obviously she wasn’t talking to an actual bin. “DS Adams, Met Police. Come out now.”
There was no response, just the bin staring back at her blandly, and she caught a whiff of curry from somewhere that made her belly rumble.
“Come on. I know you’re in there. You’re not in any trouble, I just want a word.”
The bin creaked slightly, and she didn’t exactly see it move, but it had inched forward a couple of cobblestones. She was taking note now.
“Last chance. Don’t make me drag you out of there.”
There was still no response, and she shifted her grip on the baton, keeping it close to her leg but ready to swing up and around. Her mouth was abruptly dry, and she licked her lips, daring another quick glance back to the street and down into the depths of the alley. No one.
She squared her shoulders and stepped forward, and someone grabbed her.
DS Adams wasn’t the sort of person who did much screaming, but she definitely bit down on something as she spun to face her assailant, twisting her arm out of their grip and taking two fast steps back, the baton coming up over her shoulder instinctively.
Ski Suit cringed in front of her, almost dropping to a crouch as he raised his hands to protect his head. “Don’t!” he yelped. “Please don’t!”
“Where the hell did you come from?” Adams demanded, then twisted around, suddenly aware of the bin at her back. It stared at her blandly, and she tried to tell herself she was just worried about an as-yet-unseen Ski Suit 2 popping out of it.
“I was hiding. I was running, and hiding, and I wasn’t going to come back, but then I thought, you don’t know.”
“Know what?” she asked, turning her attention back to him now that it looked like the bin wasn’t going to pounce on her.
He pointed, and she managed not to look behind her. That was the sort of thing decent detective sergeants didn’t fall for.
“So there is someone in there?” She took a step backward, toward the bin, still not looking at it. The skin on the back of her neck was crawling, and Ski Suit squawked again.
“Don’t! Don’t go near it!”
“Why not? Who’s in there?” She stopped, trying to look at both the bin and him at once. Not that he looked like much of a threat. He was tall, but even in the suit everything about him was bony and angular. His wrists were knobbly where they hung out of the grimy green cuffs, and he had a scraggly ginger beard under a woolly orange hat. His accent was hard to place, one of those almost-posh voices that has been carefully scoured of its regionality.
“No one’s in there. But it’s a trap,” he whispered.
“It’s a bin,” she said, annoyed to find herself whispering as well.
“Have you seen a bin like that before?”
She glanced at it, opening her mouth to say of course she had, they were in every alley all over the city, probably all over the country, bulging with rubbish and scraps, with the inevitable broken lamps and lopsided chests of drawers abandoned next to them. But the words died before she could speak. The damn thing still seemed to be watching her, as ridiculous as that was. She scowled at Ski Suit and said, “Well, how’s it a trap, then?”
“I don’t know. I just know it’s dangerous.”
He reached out as if to grab her arm again, but her frown deepened and he let his hand drop. He started to back away toward the street instead, beckoning her. She didn’t follow, and after a few steps he stopped, scratching anxiously at his chest. “It just is. I don’t think it’s really a trap for us, but if you’re alone, or unwary …” He spread his fingers. “It takes its chances, you know? Like a crocodile.”
“I’m police,” Adams said, not sure if she was protesting the accusation of unwariness or the idea of a crocodile bin.
Ski Suit shrugged. “It doesn’t care. And you see, so it means it can see you, too.”
Adams looked at the bin, then back at him, sorted through the many possible things she could say, then said, “Sorry, what?”
He thought about it, then said, “People walk past this alley all the time, and they never even see it. People who fit into the world don’t. But then I look down here and I swear there’s boxes of doughnuts left out. Just boxes and boxes and boxes of them, all warm and fresh and they smell so good.” He sighed. “I like doughnuts.”
“And sometimes people who don’t fit into the world go missing. And maybe they liked doughnuts, too, or maybe it showed them something else. My friend Edith always saw scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam, all set out on a little table with a checked cloth, and daffodils in a jug on the table.” He looked at the bin thoughtfully. “She’s gone now.”
“You think the bin ate Edith.” She wanted to laugh – or at least to want to laugh – but somehow she didn’t.
Ski Suit shook his head firmly. “No. She knew not to go too close. It can only catch you if you’re not careful. The others, though … they hunt.”
Adams shivered despite herself. “The others?”
“By the bridge.” Ski Suit’s voice was a whisper, and in the strange light his eyes were washed of colour, left flat and grey and lifeless. “The new monsters. The ones who steal you. Snap-snap-snap.”
Adams flinched at the snap, the man’s voice suddenly hard and high, then she said, “You saw something? You saw someone at the bridge?”
Ski Suit gave her a wary look. “I tried to tell the police, but they said I was lying. They can’t see. They can’t even listen.”
“Talking about crocodile bins might not have been the best way to start.”
He pointed at her. “You see.”
“Well, I’ve got eyes. What’s your name?” He was off his head, obviously, but he had been at the bridge, and if he’d seen something it meant he was the best lead they had. The only lead they had.
He looked past her at the bin. “I can’t tell you. Not here. Names matter.”
“Would the station suit you better?” Adams asked, then immediately held both hands up as Ski Suit skittered away from her. He stared at the baton with wide eyes, pressing himself into the wall, looking more frightened than he had of the crocodile bin. She collapsed the baton hurriedly and shoved it into her coat pocket. “Sorry, sorry. I’m not arresting you.”
“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “I’m just looking for my friends, but the police all say, no, Jack, go away, go away and tell stories somewhere else or we’ll lock you up, lock you up in the walls and away from the sky.” His fingers were digging into the brickwork, and she could see the knuckles whitening with pressure.
“I’ll listen,” Adams promised him. “And is that your name? Jack?”
“It’s a name.”
“Alright, Jack, I’m DS Adams—”
“That’s not a real name.”
He frowned at her. “You should have a real name.”
“Like Jack?” She raised her eyebrows at him.
“Jack could be a real name. DS isn’t a real name at all. And Adams is a last name, which means it isn’t even yours. It’s your family’s.”
Adams rubbed a hand across her face and looked up at the invisible sky. Twenty minutes ago she’d been patrolling a crowd in a perfectly normal manner. Now she was considering crocodile bins and arguing about the relative real-ness of her name. “D’you want me to help find your friend or not?”
“Friends,” he said. “Plural. Edith and Lilith and Tommy and Weird Al and Bertie.”
She stared at him. “Five people?”
He nodded. “But not people anyone cares about. No one cares when we go missing, because we’re missing from the world already.”
“Well, I’ll help if I can.” She couldn’t apologise for no one listening before, because that wasn’t how things were done. Or she could, but it wouldn’t mean anything. And it wouldn’t change anything, because he was right. Not everyone was listened to in the same way, and they should be. Not just because it was human to need to be heard, although that was reason enough, but because it might be the one lead that unravelled everything – this case, or a different one.
He examined her. “You will, won’t you? And you can see, so maybe you really can.”
She tried for a reassuring smile. “Yes. But you’ve got to tell me everything. You’ve got to tell me anything you know about people vanishing around here. Kids are going missing too, you know.”
Jack smiled at that, an oddly charming grin that revealed neat white teeth. “And everyone cares about the kiddies. At least the ones with the money and the cute smiles.”
She didn’t argue it, just shrugged. “Can we help each other?”
“Maybe. But you really have to see. See properly, you know. Because they’re everywhere. And we feel them at some level. Most of us, anyway. If we’re smart, we pay attention. If we’re not … well, doughnuts.” He sneaked a sideways look at the bin. “We know. We know we have to be careful.”
“We?” Adams asked.
“We.” Jack pointed at his own chest. He smiled, revealing those neat white teeth again. “You lot don’t see us, but we see everything.”
“And who are they? The ones who are everywhere?”
Jack nodded past her, and she followed his gaze. The bin creaked, and Adams caught a whiff of curry that made her stomach growl. She wondered if she should march up to it and fling the lid open, confront whatever – whoever – was in there, but she couldn’t seem to make herself do it. The headache from the bridge was starting to spread across her forehead.
“See?” Jack whispered. “It’s still trying. Bet it’d love to catch a human. Must be nice after all those rats and pigeons and stuff. And there’s much more than bins out here.”
“This is ridiculous,” Adams said, without much conviction. She stared at the bin. It seemed to have edged even closer while they were talking.
“You said you’d help,” Jack reminded her.
“You need to give me details. Proper ones, not fairy tales and … and urban myths.” Although she’d never heard myths about carnivorous bins before.
“I’m trying. It’s not … it’s no one human. We know what’s out here. We do. And so we can usually stay safe, usually avoid them, but there’s something new. Something we don’t know. And it’s catching up to us. So we need help. You have to help. And if you’re going to help, you have to see.”
DS Adams took a careful breath. The air in the alley felt too close, too tight. “You can’t really mean that. It’s … what? You think aliens took your friends? Monsters?” She tried to laugh, but it fell flat and breathless.
Jack gave her a strange look, some mix of despair and pity. “No. Not aliens. And monsters – well, not like a river monster or something. But they’re not human. You have to see.” He pointed down the alley. “You have to!”
She followed his pointing hand, feeling as much as seeing shadows flocking at the corners of her vision, more nasty little migraine-motes. The strange yellow light of the alley was murky and diffuse, with no real source, as if it were coming from the walls or the thick, claggy air itself. She hadn’t seen any streetlights since she’d left the main road, and there were no windows in the buildings around them. Just old brick forced into awkward, pointless patterns, like a child’s first attempt at LEGO. The walls were dark and damp, and the dead end behind the bin seemed undefined, as if the alley both went on forever beyond it, and at the same time was no more than a painted backdrop hiding some horrifying backstage that she had no desire to see.
And the bin … the bin was closer. There was no doubting it now. It crouched on the slick stone, vibrating with expectation, and she was aware again that it was all but silent in here. The sounds of the city were lost, as indistinct as lights seen through a fog bank, and she glanced back toward the street. Dimly, she could see the road beyond, a mirage of the world she knew, but even as she watched, someone – something – passed the end. It was all slouching, multi-angled limbs, disproportionately tall and thin and bending in all the wrong angles and places. She tried to swallow against a tightening in her throat, but her mouth was too dry, and she looked at Jack with her face as hot as a fever. He stared back at her, reflecting her panic, and the bin creaked closer, the air pressing even tighter as it did so.
“Not that much!” Jack’s voice was a hoarse yelp. “You can’t see that much! Then they know you see!”
But Adams didn’t know how she was meant to stop. The world had cracked open, and she was falling.
Did I just leave you in a horrible cliffhanger moment? Yes, yes I did, because authors are horrible people 😉
So if you haven’t already, you can head to your favourite retailers and pre-order your ebook now. It’ll appear on your ereader all sneaky and non-bin-like on the 27th, ready for the reading!
Paperbacks are also available to order at the same link, or ask your friendly local indie bookshop if they can get it in for you, using the ISBN 978-0-473-66810-5. (Plus, did you know that using Bookshop.org to order paperbacks online means you support indie bookshops, even if you don’t have one handy? What Happened in London might not be available there just yet, but if you can wait a few days for it to come up then that’s a lovely way to do your online shopping 🙂 )