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First pages

Chapter 1

Friday 13th August 2010
12.23am

 

The train thundered through the tunnel, carrying Jake deeper into London.

He felt himself being gently swayed from side to side by the train’s motion. He stood close to one of the doors beside a handrail, his sweaty hand gripping it bone-white-tight. As if he were trapped on a plane falling from the sky. As if something bad were about to happen any second. Any second now.

None of the other passengers shared his tension. For them, this was just another quick trip on the Tube, and they took it in their stride. Ordinary, mundane, safe, nothing to worry about.

Jake stood apart from them all, holding on for dear life.

He glanced around the familiar interior. Yellow handrails ran vertically from floor to ceiling and horizontally at head height. Rows of seats were upholstered with geometric patterns, designed to hide the dirt of a million backsides. And as always there were rectangular advertisements that nobody paid much attention to, below grilled air vents that never let in much air.

Equally ignored were all the usual London Underground stickers and symbols in their primary colours: Priority seat. Obstructing the doors can be dangerous. Emergency alarm.

Only the Emergency alarm kept catching Jake’s eye.

It was fairly busy, even for this time of night. Jake was surrounded by a few dozen people who sat in seats or stood in groups. Many were noisier than usual, not hushed like most passengers. Late-night Londoners, heading home from the bars or out to the clubs. Some were even younger than him.

He coughed, keeping his mouth closed, and went back to watching the tunnel wall race by on the other side of the door. At this speed it was just a blur, layered with grey cables that streamed past like never-ending snakes. Nobody else looked out of the windows – there was never anything to see. And yet he examined it carefully. Looking for signs.

Jake’s eyes refocused onto his own reflection, bent by the curved glass. It was the first time he’d looked at himself for a few months. All the mirrors were broken in the last couple of squats he’d stayed in. The derelict flat above the bricked-up corner shop that he broke into a few weeks ago didn’t even have running water, let alone mirrors.

His faded jeans were criss-crossed with black gaffer tape across the rips. Once-red trainers were nearly colourless now. The padded jacket was too heavy and thick for August, but he often had to sleep in it, on bare floorboards in a room where the wind whistled in through cracks in boarded-up windows. Underneath that was a grey hooded top and three more layers, although two of the t-shirts weren’t even his size. The rucksack on his back usually held the few clothes he owned, but tonight it bulged with the hard angles of more practical items.

A week ago, he had to cut his own thick blonde hair with a rusty pair of scissors when it started getting in his eyes, and now it looked so randomly spiky it might almost be fashionable. His blue eyes were the only colour on a smooth, paper-white face. Was it always that pale? Did he always have such visible cheekbones? He never shaved very often but could make out a wispy cloud of light fuzz across his jaw, matted down by dirt. His mouth was a thin line, lips dry and chapped.

He didn’t look eighteen anymore. He carried too many years with him.

Jake broke into another cough, aiming it into the crook of his elbow to muffle the hacking sound. Lots of perfume and aftershave from the other passengers clogged the air. That’s all it was. He’d be fine when he got off.

His journey on the Tube tonight hadn’t taken long, but had been difficult to deal with. Too many people, everywhere he looked. And too many lights stabbing down from above, making his eyes sting. He had moved fast: striding through passageways double-quick, jogging up and down escalators. He didn’t need to follow the signs – he could have made the journey blindfolded.

From the squat, Jake had walked to Rotherhithe Station where he bought an old-fashioned ticket rather than an Oyster card. He took the Overground to Whitechapel, changing onto the westbound Hammersmith and City Line. That took him toward King’s Cross, where he changed to the Northern Line train he was now on.

Change and change and change again. A laboratory rat running through a maze that it knew every twist and turn of. This was Jake’s life now.

He felt the motion of the train begin to slow, slow… and then, with a drawn-out metallic squeal, come to a halt.

His hand tightened around the rail. Through the window he saw the bare interior of the tunnel, lined with cables and coated in grime, no longer blurring past.

Jake looked around. Nobody was panicking. A few people tutted and moaned, clearly accustomed to Tube trains stopping between stations. Happened all the time. Any second now they’d hear the driver announce that they were being held at a red signal, or waiting for the train ahead to leave the platform, or that there were delays due to a signal failure. There’s always bloody signal failures.

But no announcement came. The train remained still.

A few seconds later, its electric motors – a constant background hum that you only became aware of when they stopped – stopped. The train went silent. Stuck dead in the middle of the tunnel.

It’s happening, thought Jake.

His head whipped back and forth, mouth open, breathing fast. He gripped the vertical handrail with both hands.

Emergency alarm.

It’s coming for me.

I knew it would, it’s coming for me!

He knew what was about to happen. All the lights would blink off, and the entire train would go black, and in the darkness there would be screams, proper screams, and he’d see –

A pneumatic hiss reached his ears, followed by a vibration and an electric hum. He felt movement. The tunnel wall continued passing by.

Jake caught his breath, frowning at all the normality, at the perfectly ordinary Tube train that dared to just carry on travelling as if nothing were going to happen.

It was going to happen, he was sure. He was sure of it! He’d been expecting it for months now, every single time he got on a Tube. Why hadn’t it taken this chance to –

“The next station is Camden Town, High Barnet Branch.” He jumped as the automated PA system blared from a speaker near his head. “Change here for Northern Line, Bank Branch. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.”

The tunnel vanished, replaced by the brightness of a London Underground station platform. As the train slowed, most passengers stood and turned to face the doors, eager for their night to begin.

Jake prised bloodless fingers away from the handrail, pulled the hoodie over his head and took a deep breath. This was where his night began too.

With a beeping alert, the train’s doors rumbled open. Jake allowed himself to be swept out by the surge of people, grateful for all the layers of clothing keeping them away from his skin. He kept his head down as he shuffled around iron railings – cattle barriers for humans – opposite the archway that led to the exit. He swirled to the edge of the crowd, staying still while everyone else drained away like rainwater.

A uniformed member of staff wandered into view, keeping an eye on people. Keeping an eye on him, perhaps. Since the bombings five years ago, anyone carrying a rucksack on the Tube was viewed with suspicion.

Jake heaved his bag onto the floor, unzipped it and made a show of rummaging deep inside as if searching for his Oyster card, oh where is it, must be in here somewhere, silly me... This seemed to satisfy the staff member that the rucksack wasn’t packed with explosives, and he turned away.

If he had peeked inside and seen the crowbar, hacksaw, bolt cutters, oxyacetylene blowtorch and the rest, it might have been a different story.

Jake glanced at the train. It was the final one of the night, so it would remain there with its doors open for longer than usual to catch the very last passengers. His eyes roamed over the platform. The wall was covered with brick-shaped tiles, coloured pale yellow and blue. It rose into a curved ceiling, with signage and lights dangling from it. There were also two security cameras, but not aimed his way. Nobody was looking at him either.

Worth the risk, he decided. His hand fastened around one of the pieces of equipment in his rucksack.

The large Tube map on the wall beside him was printed on plastic, set into a metal frame. It showed the entire bewildering mesh of the London Underground. A map famous around the world, making sense out of the city’s complexity by ordering it along neat, colour-coded lines. Dark blue for Piccadilly Line, green for District Line, red for Central Line, light blue for Victoria Line, yellow for Circle Line, brown for Bakerloo Line...

And…

Jake lifted the lamp. It had a rectangular panel along its length and a glass tube within which was jet black, not transparent. Pressing a button caused this to give off a faint purple haze. For a second he blinked, even though it wasn’t bright. Then he turned it toward the map, quickly running it up and down.

A dotted mess of smears and smudged fingerprints glowed under the ultraviolet light. But the white background of the map itself didn’t, which meant it was printed on some phosphor-free material. Jake knew not to get too excited. He had done this on dozens of maps, at Tube stations all across London, but not once was there ever –

There.

Oh my God. There it is!

He leaned in close, aiming the UV lamp. He stared at the two ordinary black lines running up from Camden Town…

And the glowing blue-white line, angling off into an area with no stations.

It ended not with a T-shape like the terminus of most lines but with a circle symbol, like an interchange station. Except this circle had a slightly flattened X across it, radiating the same ultraviolet shine.

Jake’s wide eyes traced the blazing stripe back to where it joined the Northern Line and ended at a point halfway between Camden Town and Kentish Town stations.

A nowhere place. Unless you knew what was there.

“It’s true,” he heard himself whisper. “They’re real.”

Jake swallowed down his hammering heart. With the lamp in one hand, he held up his mobile phone with the other, grateful to have charged it earlier at a coffee shop, albeit only to 87% before the staff threw him out for not buying anything. He struggled to stop his hand trembling as he opened the camera icon and took a picture of the Tube map.

The Tube map with the extra line.

A few people walked past. Native Londoners, fortunately, so they only spared him a microsecond glance, not giving a damn. Jake flicked off the lamp and phone, then dumped both inside his rucksack. He stood up too quickly, making his head spin, his vision blur.

He stared once more at the map. The fluorescent line was gone now, invisible to the naked eye… although he found that by blinking hard, he could just about see it again. An electric glow, outshining all the flat colours of the other lines.

He reached out and ran his fingers along the map, tracing the hidden path.

Hefting the rucksack over one shoulder, Jake ambled along the platform, doing his best to look like just another traveller catching the last train home. The words MIND THE GAP on the floor drew his gaze. The letters were scuffed by years of footsteps, as was the yellow line painted along the platform’s edge.

Up ahead, a wall jutted out halfway across the width of the platform, with a brown door set into it. More signs: Fire door. Keep shut. Danger. High voltage. It then sloped ahead toward the headwall. Before the actual lip of the tunnel was a waist-high metal gate with yet more symbols emblazoned down it. Danger. Moving trains. Passengers must not pass this point. Offenders will be prosecuted.

He almost smiled. As if that would be enough to stop him.

The tunnel mouth looked ancient. It was smeared with soot and dust, and ringed by old cables stapled into place. No light reached inside.

It pulled at Jake’s eyes. The emptiness of it.

That aching tingle came again. In his guts, his belly.

A cousin to hunger.

A pre-recorded female voice echoed down the platform. “This is a Northern Line train to… High Barnet. The next station is… Kentish Town.”

“No it isn’t.”

That startled him. Why was he talking to himself? He never did that before. He doesn’t do that when he’s alone in the squat, does he?

Jake glanced round. He was in range of a security camera now, so he’d better try to look normal. He made himself sit down on one of the metal seats nearby, retrieved his phone from the rucksack and hunched over it. It was an iPhone 3GS – last year’s model. It was covered with a thick rubber case and plastic screenguard that made it waterproof, scratchproof and shockproof. It needed to be armoured in the places he took it.

He flipped randomly through a document on the device, pausing only when…

 

I’m screaming. I can hear it

now, my own voice screaming

as he drags me along, because

up ahead there’s… just a pitch-

black tunnel, there’s nothing in

there, so why am I

 

…only when something stood out…

 

gap the mind the gap mindthe

gap thegap please god

mind thegap

 

…from the text that he knew off by heart.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” blared a voice over the PA. “This is the last northbound service from this station. The train is about to leave. Please stand back behind the yellow line.”

He pocketed his phone, picked up his rucksack and walked alongside the train to the sloping wall. Acting normally, oh so normal, la la la, just another passenger hoping to get a seat right at the front.

He noticed the driver, scowling at him through the cabin window. Probably wondering if Jake might be a ‘one-under’. That’s what London Underground staff called those who tried to commit suicide by jumping on the tracks. Routine hazard for them, happened all the time.

A few more dry coughs came hacking out of him – must be the train’s motors, chucking out a load of dust. He edged farther along the sloping wall, past one of the roundels displaying the station name.

The train’s pneumatic doors all closed in unison, a couple of stragglers jumping through them just in time. With a hiss and a rising hum, it started moving from right to left along the platform. Jake stood still, buffeted by wind as car after car whooshed past, offering glimpses of blurred faces through the windows. As the last car vanished, its rear wheels spat a sudden spark. He blinked, seeing the flare overlaid on his vision.

The train’s rear lights disappeared, sucked up by the tunnel’s blackness, and its rumbling faded away. All that was left was that wide-open circular mouth, ringed with cables and filth. Nothing inside at all.

Nothing the naked eye could see…

“You’re in there, aren’t you,” someone whispered with his voice.

That same taut ache. A cousin to hunger.

Jake checked his wristwatch, the chunky one that could withstand the pressure of ocean depths, the one he got for his… sixteenth, seventeenth birthday, something like that. The station would close to the public in the next ten minutes or so. Staff would do a sweep, knowing there were always people dragging their feet on the last Tube home.

He’d be long gone by then.

He moved closer to the metal gate, to the very edge of the platform. His trainers stepped across the yellow line. Not minding the gap like all the signs told him to. Bad passenger. Nobody likes a one-under.

He peered over, at the four metal tracks. Beneath them in the angular suicide pit scurried a couple of tiny mice, zipping back and forth. Just like the ones he heard at night, scratching in the corners of the empty room he slept in. You could spot them at most Tube stations, living their little lives in the gaps between trains, darting away when one arrived and emerging when it was gone.

“Mind the gap,” he muttered. To the mice? To himself?

A quick glance over his shoulder. Yes, the sloping wall blocked the security camera, good. So all he had to do was take a step…

“Would Inspector Sands please report to the operations room immediately.”

Jake went rigid as the strident female voice speared through the air, through his heart. It sounded like a routine PA announcement, but that was just to avoid alarming people. This particular pre-recorded message was a security alert. Sometimes because a fire alarm had been pulled or there was the possibility of a terrorist incident, but in this case he knew exactly what the threat was.

Him.

He twisted round, expecting to see station staff looking at him or British Transport Police storming his way, but the platform was empty. Somehow they must have picked him up on CCTV, and some bastard up in Camden Town’s operations room was watching him on a screen and stabbing a big red button.

“Would Inspector Sands please report to the operations room immediately.”

Jake hesitated, tempted to jump off anyway.

“Do it!” someone ordered him – his own voice again.

But no. He wouldn’t get far, not now they knew he was there. And tonight was the one night that he couldn’t risk getting caught.

Plan B it was, then. He’d have to meet the others after all.

He stepped away from the edge, stood back behind the yellow line like a good little passenger. Behave yourself or Inspector Sands will come and get you. Yes all right, I’m following the rules, look, I’m obeying your stupid signs...

Muttering under his breath, he strode back along the platform toward the cattle barrier – and skidded to a halt as a clutch of men appeared through the entrance all at once.

Shit! The police, here to arrest him?

No, Jake realised with relief, just engineers. They all wore white hard hats and bright orange overalls lined with luminous strips, and were carrying heavy bags of equipment. Their voices bounced flatly off the wall tiles. The dull chatter of dull men doing a dull job.

It was clear they would be performing some work on the tracks, once the power was shut off. Maybe even replacing a section of rail. The Northern Line was over a century old and there were always repairs taking place.

He gritted his teeth. This could seriously screw with his plans. For now, though, he just had to get out.

He held his breath as he continued walking to the exit… but the maintenance team barely gave him a second glance and automatically stood aside as he went through. A teenage Moses parting an orange sea.

Jake joined the last few people leaving Camden Town Station without really seeing them. Instead, his mind’s eye saw its entire layout: the northbound and southbound tunnels built on top of each other, the passenger corridors, the internal gates, the staff-only offices, the emergency exits, the twisting staircases.

He knew this place, knew its history. He even knew about the deep-level air raid shelter that had been constructed underneath it during World War Two but never actually used. Few of the millions of people who passed through Camden Town ever suspected there was a rusting wartime relic below their feet.

Jake knew all of London’s forgotten subterranean chambers. He knew how to get to them.

And he knew what else was down there, even deeper.

Chapter 2

Friday 13th August 2010

12.41am

 

Jake found himself short of breath when he reached the station’s ticket hall. This was despite standing on the escalator rather than walking up. It was more as if he were unused to the altitude.

On his left, the entrance-only side of Camden Town Station had huge iron gates pulled across it, leaving only a narrow gap. A uniformed TfL staff member stood there turning people away, explaining they had missed the last Tube. Their dismayed howls bounced off his craggy face like a mountain breeze.

On the right, by contrast, the exit side had something of a carnival atmosphere. Jake fed his off-peak single into the ticket barrier and walked through, into the noise and music and traffic of Camden High Street.

Crowds were spilling out of late-night bars, clustering around bus stops and queuing outside mini-cab offices. Squawking packs of girls. Braying gangs of boys. Old punks in their fifties and kids younger than Jake. Energetic tourists consulted their maps. Lethargic locals hauled their shopping bags. Drug dealers roamed in circles muttering offers under their breath. Club promoters tried to push flyers into people’s hands.

Surface life. Clinging to the skin of the city.

Jake realised he was shivering, deep inside his jacket. It was a warm summer night, judging by all the shorts and skirts, but the breeze felt icy on his face. That must be why he’d started coughing again, that or the exhaust fumes. There were so many lights – shops, streetlamps, cars – that it hardly felt like night-time at all. It made him wince, dull stabbing pains behind his eyes.

He couldn’t bring himself to raise his head. The night yawed above him, a too-empty cavern of air. Looking at the sky gave him vertigo, like he might fall upward.

He walked round to the other side of the Tube station, The stumpy building was clad in glazed terracotta tiles, with arched windows outlined in white, its name on a blue sign and the familiar UNDERGROUND roundel jutting out above the street. It sat on the corner of a five-road intersection, the dark red core of a star that radiated traffic and people in all directions. Camden was one of London’s always-beating hearts.

With so much laughing, singing, arguing, kissing and throwing up going on, nobody paid attention to the three young men watching the station like hawks.

Just over the road, The World’s End pub had closed but the Underworld club in the cellars beneath was still thumping away. It was in the alley alongside the empty pub that they lurked. All three wore dark tops with the hoods up, making them look shapeless, anonymous, dangerous.

Jake crossed Kentish Town Road and joined his people.

They immediately began hurling questions at him – why didn’t he meet them outside the entrance, why weren’t they already down in the station, why wasn’t he following the plan – but he cut them off in a calm voice.

“Maintenance workers. They’re already on the northbound platform. No way past them without being seen.”

He hauled off his rucksack and placed it against the wall beside a similar one. Shame he couldn’t really feel their stares. Shame he didn’t feel awkward, or embarrassed, or irritated, or something.

Anything.

“Bollocks!” exploded the biggest guy in the group. He yanked his hood down and kicked the wall. “What bloody bad timing! We’re not getting in there tonight, are we?”

Jake glanced up at him. He was in his early twenties and impressively built, well over six feet tall, broad and stocky. Not quite as pale as Jake but with freckles, short ginger hair, a strong jaw and a flat, ruddy face. It was only that posh voice which stopped him from looking threatening. What with his size and the clipped vowels, it was easy to imagine he had a stellar history in grammar school rugby teams.

As with all of them, Jake didn’t know his real name. On the online forums, he always signed off his posts with a mocking ‘Try this at home, kids!’ Hence the nickname ‘Disclaimer’. It was clear that a hunger for excitement was the main reason why he had joined the forum, joined ‘the scene’.

There were a dozen names for it. Urban exploration. Place hacking. Environment access. A network of people addicted to finding ways into places they were not meant to go: sewer drains, old hospitals, neglected gasworks, dead power stations, derelict military bunkers… and of course, disused Tube stations. Anywhere they could feel like true explorers.

Almost always dangerous. Almost always illegal. Both were part of the appeal. To avoid prosecution for trespassing, the forum members used pseudonyms instead of their real names. As far as his companions were concerned, ‘Jake’ was just as artificial as ‘Disclaimer’.

It was while scouring those unlisted, members-only forums that Jake found him. Although his face was deliberately blurred to hide his identity, he was a familiar sight in the photo galleries. Images of him on the roof of Battersea Power Station, angling his body so it looked like one of the four gigantic chimneys was protruding between his legs: ‘If you’ve ever met my girlfriend, this is why she smiles like the Mona Lisa.’ Or standing on a narrow ledge outside King’s Reach Tower, silhouetted against the lights of London below: ‘With about 300ft of empty air under my Caterpillar boots, I had finally found a place where my tungsten balls could swing freely.’

Well-educated, bored, experience junkies like Disclaimer were ten-a-penny on the scene. But it was the pictures of him and his ‘crew’ infiltrating Down Street Station that caught Jake’s eye.

Disused Tube stations were often featured on the forums. There were over forty of them dotted around the Underground, many of which were shut down decades ago and left to fall into decay. All were closed off to the public and notoriously difficult to gain access to. Down Street was typical of these, a forgotten station that was closed in the 1930s. It was unseen by Tube passengers, the trains passing through but never stopping there.

And yet there was Disclaimer, inside it. Posing like a superhero on a grimy spiral stairwell. Standing by the tunnel mouth, holding out a thumb as if hitch-hiking. Squatting by the electrified tracks with both arms held out in a driving posture. ‘My other train is a Porsche!’

That’s when Jake knew he’d found someone he could use.

Someone he could recruit.

“I knew this was a bad idea,” Disclaimer grumbled, still kicking the tips of his boots against brickwork. “There’s too many people around anyway, we’re too exposed here, guys.”

“Nah, that works to our advantage.”

This was from the man Jake knew only as ‘Subverse’. Here was someone you would cross the road to avoid. Shaved head, narrow face, dark eyes, spiky piercings, whole body corded with tight muscle, arms and neck covered with tattoos and scars. He stood next to Disclaimer, taking quick drags on a cigarette.

“Nobody’s paying us any attention, we’re blending in much more than if this was an abandoned site. It’s the perfect camouflage, we’re nondescript amongst the herd of conformity.” He ground out his cigarette against the wall and spat on the pavement. “Still a frigging nightmare, though.”

Maybe Jake shouldn’t have been surprised, when he first met Subverse, that he talked exactly the same way as he wrote on the forum. But his pictures spoke more eloquently than his words. Subverse’s art was in photographing cities from new angles. His photo galleries featured hundreds of shots of what he called the ‘subterranea’ beneath London. But only a select few got Jake’s heart pounding.

Places like Mark Lane Station, abandoned since 1967. Aldwych, a one-stop spur jutting off the Piccadilly Line that was closed in 1994. Platforms five and six at Holborn, walled off to the public. They were all there on the urbex forum, captured by Subverse’s lenses: mouldering posters, faded signage, ancient storerooms built into bricked-up platforms.

Exactly what Jake needed to see.

Here was the second person he had to recruit.

“We have to abort,” said Subverse. “If there’s an engineering crew working in the tunnels, our odds of slipping down there are zero.”

“We’re not aborting,” Jake told them.

Disclaimer and Subverse shared a mutinous look.

“I agree,” the fourth member of the group said softly. “I think it might be too soon to give up. Let’s just wait for a while. Yes?”

Disclaimer and Subverse nodded in agreement.

“You’ve all got into tougher places, I know,” the man added. “I’m impressed with what I’ve seen of your work.”

“We impressed you?” Disclaimer shook his head. “Our stuff’s nothing compared to what you’ve done! Those shots you took in Brussels on top of the, what was it, the Palace of Justice? They were, like, legendary!”

“And the Augarten Flak Tower in Vienna,” added Subverse, “and the Maillot Loop... inspirational stuff, mate, seriously.”

The fourth man waved away their praise with a smile. At twenty-eight he was the oldest, and his goatee and glasses added maturity. His Canadian accent sounded quasi-American to British ears. Otherwise he was fairly plain. Short, thin, brown-haired… the sort of guy nobody looked twice at. But on the urban exploration forums, where he was known as ‘Spatial Deconstruction’, it was a different story. Over the past ten years, he’d done it all.

Unlike Subverse, he only posted pictures, always in black and white. From the highest towers to the deepest underground spaces – monochromatic views that no-one in the world had ever seen. And accompanying his pictures were those taken by other members of his crew, documenting the master at work: climbing sheer walls using only his fingertips, bending his small body under barbed wire fences, jumping across the sickening drop between buildings. Spatial Deconstruction in progress.

Those in his crews called him ‘Deak’ for short. The urbex forums simply referred to him as SD, with phrases like ‘If SD couldn’t get in here, neither can you, noob!’ and ‘Back in 2003, long before getting rinsed by other groups, the Paris Catacombs were well and truly SD’d.’

Everyone knew this man. Everyone respected him. Every cell of explorers in the international community would be honoured to meet him. And here he was, lurking in a grotty Camden back-street at one in the morning with this lot.

Jake knew why. The only way to interest an explorer of his stature was to offer routes into places nobody else had been to. The perfect bait.

His final recruit.

It crossed Jake’s mind that not so long ago, he would have been in absolute awe of these guys. They often risked their lives getting into places the public were either forbidden to reach or never had a clue existed. Nobody paid them to do it, and they took nothing except photographs, seeking only the experience of being in a space where they should not be. Go back a year or so and he would have seen urban explorers as the coolest of the cool.

Now, they were nothing but human versions of the tools in his rucksack. There for a purpose, there to be used. There was no room for awe in Jake’s thoughts anymore.

Deak asked “The York Road hack was one of yours, wasn’t it? How did that feel?”

“Satisfying,” replied Subverse immediately. “Deeply satisfying. When I was at North London Uni, I used to go to Holloway Road all the time, and I always knew there was a reason why it took so long to get from King’s Cross to Cally Road, you know? And when I became aware of this zone of blackness halfway between stations, where the tunnel walls just vanish and there’s this absence of reality, I’ve always felt that one day I’d have to physically place myself into that void – ”

“Bloody amazing!” grinned Disclaimer. “That’s how it felt!”

A gentle smile from Deak. “And how did you manage to get down there?”

Subverse’s features fell, while Disclaimer’s remained buoyant. “Jake found us a way in, the kid’s an absolute genius!”

“Yeah, genius,” Subverse muttered.

Jake said nothing. He didn’t even appear to be listening, sitting on top of his rucksack with his back against the wall. But he remembered showing the two of them how to gain access to the abandoned station.

York Road Station’s upper levels still remained, a familiar red-tiled building now fitted with offices and presumably CCTV, which had put off many other crews. But Jake knew of the concealed doorway in Bingfield Street which led into its basement, where they found a grime-coated staircase that led all the way down to track level. He’d explained it was an intervention point, a way of evacuating passengers directly from the platforms in emergencies, probably never used even when the station was open prior to 1932.

The only problem was the iron chain keeping the door closed, but Jake’s oxyacetylene blowtorch got them past that. Disclaimer called it a bloody clever little shortcut. Subverse called it cheating.

While Disclaimer ran around the mouldering platforms whooping so loud it echoed off the walls, and Subverse lit up the entire area with flashes from his digital camera, Jake had got to work.

“We were down there for ages.” Disclaimer gave a satisfied nod. “It was a great night.”

“Some of us didn’t want to leave,” Subverse remarked.

Jake didn’t look up, knowing Subverse was giving him one of his knuckle-hard glares. He’d made them both wait for ages while he poked into every nook and cranny of York Road, methodically shining his UV lamp at every piece of floor, wall and ceiling. What the hell was he looking for, they asked? What did he expect to find down here?

He’d kept silent as he aimed the black light back and forth, examining anything that glowed in the dark. All he found were a few faint streaks on the ground which shone a luminous yellow. He knew these were nothing but traces of rodent urine. Irritation scratched along his nerves. Had he come all this way just to look at mouse piss?


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I was born in Nineteen Davidey-Dave (all the best people were born that year) and live in London. I write contemporary fiction in a variety of genres. For anyone who is anxious about the London Underground, I can assure you that there is nothing strange or spooky going on down there whatsoever. Honestly, nothing. Especially not on the Northern Line. Nope.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
As a native Londoner I have travelled on the Tube thousands of times, but it always feels like inhabiting a slightly different world to the city on the surface. The facts and figures of the Underground are just as fascinating as its shadowy corners, and I hope this book does justice to both aspects.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
While researching London's history in general and the Underground in particular, the problem was deciding what to leave out of the book rather than put in! The city's history is so rich and textured that there's an enormous amount of inspiration.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
This wasn't a decision I remember making. I've just always written, ever since I was a kid. Wait, hang on! You mean I could have spent my life doing other stuff?!

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