Here’s another excerpt from Sins of Our Mothers, my NaNoWriMo novel in process. This piece is rather long because it’s a chase scene and you gotta read these things to a logical conclusion. Sorry to drone on but hopefully it reads at a brisk clip. That was certainly my intent but as always, it’s first draft so your forbearance is appreciated. For those not familiar with London’s subway, it’s called the tube for short.
The early morning commuter crush offered the rarely appreciated gift of anonymity. She tucked in between her fellow tube travelers, most of whom read their papers or their paperback books or blankly stared into the tiny spaces in front of their noses. A stop later and she shoved through the crowd then rode the escalator up to ground level.
The incongruity of the day’s early morning sunshine and her own bleak state of mind was not lost on her as she walked the block to her boarding house. She gave a passing hello to a couple of the girls who lived on the floor below her. They returned it and continued on their way to the tube.
At that time of day, her roommates were typically either still sleeping or had already left for work. Sure enough, Jeannette, a French woman, lay snoring in her bed. Sharon’s and Lisa’s beds had been made. Her own, closest to the window, stood in the same pristine state she’d left it two weeks ago.
She retrieved her suitcase from the basement storage locker and hastily packed up her clothes. The boarding house’s landlady had left a couple of snippy notes demanding her bi-weekly payment or she’d revoke her lease and move her stuff to storage for thirty days before disposing of it.
Rats. She’d almost gotten away.
“Neely? Is that you?” Mrs. St John, whose name was pronounced “sin-jin” thank you very much, emerged from the hallway that connected the common areas of the house to the sleeping quarters. Her flat occupied the second and third floors of that side of the home.
“Yes. It’s me. I’m just collecting my things. I’m going back to America now.”
“Where have you been? No one’s seen you for almost two weeks! I believe I made it very clear when you moved in that if you went on holiday, you were to let me know beforehand.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. St. John. It sort of was an impromptu getaway. No phone or anything.” She set down her suitcase and adjusted her backpack. Mrs. St. John sounded like she still had a few more inconveniences to hash out with her.
“No matter now if you’re leaving,” she sniffed. “But there are two gentlemen in the parlor who wish to see you. I told them you were away but Mary said she saw you slip in the back door earlier so I was on my way up to fetch you.” Her message delivered, she turned to climb the stairs to her quarters instead.
“Wait! What did they look like?” She clutched her landlady’s arm with more force than she’d intended.
“They didn’t give their names. One was dark, about thirty, the other had dirty blond hair and was maybe twenty-fiv’ish. Both had Irish accents. Neely! Neely! Where are you going?”
Neely didn’t hear any more but bolted out the back door, abandoning her suitcase in the middle of the hallway. She ran down the mews where her boarding house lay nestled between two similarly shaped row homes. As she turned the corner to the more trafficked thoroughfare, she heard Sean’s exclamation of “There she is!”
If she could make it back to the tube station, she could easily lose them in the underground because three lines intersected at that particular stop, offering six different directions for her to flee. She raced down the main thoroughfare then made a hard right. That road connected to an alley which in turn connected to a parallel street. The tube station had a lesser used entrance on that street. If Sean and the other man at least overshot the alley before doubling back to continue their pursuit, it might buy her enough time to make it to the station, jump the turnstile and catch a train. She could ride around underground for hours before heading back to the flat.
Into the alley she skidded, running as close to the wall as she could while still dodging dustbins and empty boxes. Behind her she heard them yelling to each other that she was probably headed to the tube station. They had overshot.
A few more yards and the alley spit her out into a street. She made a hard right and shot down the sidewalk before darting onto the roadway so she could jog alongside the parked cars. They might provide a bit of cover if the men decided to double back and take the alley. If they continued straight down the road they were already on, they’d beat her to the station. She could only hope that the glut of people still churning in the bowels of the city near the main entrance might slow them down more than the usual trickle at hers.
As she reached the top of the stairs that led down, a man’s voice rang out, “There! The other entrance!”
Oh shit! She leaped down the last few stairs and raced for the first line she saw, jumping the turnstile. Only a few of her fellow passengers complained, but no Police patrolled for jumpers. Shoving through the masses of people on the escalator and below, she took the first turn she saw for a different line. Though she moved against the flow of people, they kept to her right giving her almost exclusive use of the left side of the corridor. She loved the British for their tidy queuing habits.
The subtle changes in air pressure alerted her to an incoming train at the end of the passageway. She approached the platform and heard the squeal of its brakes as it slowed to a stop. No one had yet pursued her down the last passageway. She either needed to jump on the train and hope her pursuers missed it or sprint to the exit further down the platform and head to another line. She risked intersecting them if they emerged from any of the other passageways that disgorged travelers onto that line’s platform.
The doors opened but intuition prompted her to opt for the exit. She streaked down the platform, crashing perpendicularly into at least two commuters. One of them was Ian, but he was so intent on catching the train, he hadn’t recognized her.
Past the buskers she ran, leaping over strategically displayed instrument cases. A few more yards to go and she’d be at the entrance to the Piccadilly line. Brakes squealed and the whine of the opposite platform’s departing train crescendoed and melded with a lone guitar into a cacophonous soundtrack. Almost there. If the doors shut before she got on, she’d have to backtrack, not a good option.
They started rolling shut. An intrepid passenger a few feet in front of her also made a beeline for a closing door. He caught it and it bounced open. Neely sailed in behind him as the door once again began to close.
When the train pitched forward to begin its journey, she melted into the crowd, but not before she caught a glimpse of Sean bursting onto the platform…too late to hop on, too late to catch her.