Saturday, 23 March 2013

Wolf In Shadow Snippet 3: Chapter 2 - The Tube

Outside Ealing Broadway tube station, a large schematic map showed
the various bus routes into the outer West London suburbs, Hounslow,
Uxbridge, and Heathrow. Coaches ventured further west down the M4
to Slough, Reading, or even Wales.
Return to Wales? That thought concentrated her mind. Return to
her mother and the endless stream of transient “uncles” that passed
through her house; uncles with greedy eyes and wandering hands. She
came to a decision not to go west. She would go east, as far to the east
as she could. Rhian was running away all over again.
She punched pound coins into the vending machine on the wall.
It refused to accept her two-pound coin so she resorted to the old trick
of licking one side, disgusting but effective. The machine disgorged a
single one-way ticket to Upminster on the end of the District Line.
Rhian had absolutely no idea what it was like, but it fulfilled her two
vital criteria: it was not in Ealing and it was a long way from Wales.
The automatic barrier fought to strip her of her bags but she
triumphed and after a brief struggle walked down onto the platform.
A bored London Transport official studied the bare-breasted page
three girl in The Sun. The tube station was above ground so she could
look up at the grey sky. It was one of those dreary London days where
the clouds refused to rain but still hung around, like anxious parents
at a teenage party.

Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 7
It almost never rained in London. At this rate they would be
declaring another drought and banning hosepipes and car washes. She
glanced every few minutes at the electronic board, watching the
marker count out the minutes to the arrival of the Upminster train.
A deep male voice boomed over the speakers in a Jamaican accent.
“Stand clear of the platform.”
She obediently moved two paces backward, and an empty train
with its lights off rattled through.
“The Upminster train has been taken out of service. The next one
is due . . . ,” there was a pause. “Sometime soon.”
Rhian sighed and searched for a seat unmarked by chewing gum
or unmentionable stains in shades of brown.
Oddly enough, the train did arrive shortly afterwards. Rhian
climbed into an empty carriage and slipped between the arms of a seat.
The interior stank of the sharp tang of ozone from the powered rail
pickups mixed with the musty smell of ancient upholstery. The doors
slid shut with a solid thump, and they were off. Rhian leaned back
against the seat and closed her eyes. She dozed fitfully, a watchful
part of her mind noting the automatic opening and closing of the
sliding doors as the tube train ground its way through the western
A sudden surge in noise woke her up. The train dived into the
network of tunnels under central London and sound reverberated off
the walls. She was no longer alone in the carriage. On the seat opposite,
a thin youth in dirty jeans looked away a little too quickly when her
eyes met his. She put a protective arm across her luggage. Bag
snatching had the status of a cottage industry in London. The youth
leaned forward, lank, greasy hair hiding his face. Rhian picked up one
of the free newspapers that littered the floor and leafed through the
pages, more to occupy her hands than because she was interested in
reading the articles.
The carriage filled as the train ran towards the West End, so she
moved her bags onto her lap. Eventually, all the seats were taken and
people were obliged to strap-hang. The youth slouched off at South
Kensington. Maybe he had promised himself an improving day at the
museums thought Rhian sourly. Once the train left the City of
Westminster for the City of London, the original Roman London, the
carriage began to empty. The last two occupants, a couple of elderly

8 John Lambshead
Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 8
tourists instantly recognizable as American by the man’s baseball hat,
got off at Tower Hill and Rhian was left on her own.
The tube wound under Charles Dickens’ old East London.
The carriage swayed backwards and forwards over a hidden set of
points, throwing her against the arm rests and causing her rucksack to
fall onto the floor. She brushed muck off the bottom and put it beside
her on the empty seat. At this time of day the trains outside the tourist
areas were little used. The massed lemminglike hordes of commuters
had thundered into their offices earlier and would not reappear until
the evening. More than three million people used London’s tube trains
every day.
“Tickets, please?” A young man stood in front of her with his hand
He had come out of nowhere. She was sure that he had not been
there earlier. They never usually checked the tickets on the tube once
you were through the automatic barriers. Wordlessly, she fished
around in her pocket for the ticket and handed it over to the man. He
examined it casually. He was dressed in a T-shirt and cargo trousers,
showing a superbly fit, muscled body. He had a bag slung on a strap
over his shoulder.
He looked unlike any London Transport official or policeman that
Rhian had ever seen. She wondered if the government was putting SAS
troopers back on the trains again. There might be some sort of terrorist
panic on and the authorities were trying to reassure the public. Rhian
did not own a TV and hardly ever read a paper, so she was rarely aware
of national events.
The man’s eyes flicked up and down her body in that characteristic
male once-over that every woman between the age of fifteen and fifty
got used to receiving. He was clearly bored. No doubt he would prefer
to be doing something more masculine and exciting like abseiling
down embassy walls or running around Dartmoor waving a machine
gun, but here he was, checking girlys’ train tickets as a public relations
stunt for the government. He handed her ticket back and passed on
down the carriage, letting himself into the next one by the
interconnecting door. That was highly unusual in itself as those doors
were not usually used when the train was in service.
The train screeched to a halt without warning, the carriages
lurching and bumping as the multiple brakes bit differentially. Rhian

Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 9
sighed. London had the oldest and largest underground railway system
in the world, two hundred and seventy-five stations connected by two
hundred and fifty miles of track. Rhian had chosen the history of the
London Underground as her special topic at school so she had a fund
of pointless information about the system stored up in her head. The
idea of a giant underground railway had seemed romantic to a girl
growing up in a Welsh valley.
The problem with being the oldest and biggest was that the system
was out of date and impossibly expensive to modernize. When she
came to London she discovered that the tubes might be impressive but
were hardly glamorous. They were an example of archaic heavy
engineering. Some of the power wiring was fifty years old and had a
habit of cutting out at inconvenient moments.
Half the system ran underground in tight tunnels. There was an
unclaimed prize for any engineer who could work out how to fit air
conditioning to the carriages. The temperature in a broken-down train
in the rush hour, when passengers were packed into a stationary mass,
climbed quickly past blood heat until people started passing out. No
one had actually died yet, but it had to happen one day.
The driver came on the intercom. “We are being held on a red
light, so there must be some sort of delay up ahead. I haven’t been
informed of any special problem over the radio, so I assume that we
will be moving soon. I will let you know in the unlikely event that
anyone tells me anything.”
The driver switched off the intercom with an audible click, leaving
the carriage in silence. The delay dragged on so Rhian checked the
map above the seats. They must be just outside Whitechapel Station,
on the way to Stepney Green. The carriage felt cold, and Rhian
shivered. Someone had just trodden on her grave.
She saw a flicker of motion at the edge of her vision, but when she
looked there was no one there. It happened again and she heard faint
whispers, echoing like hushed voices in a cathedral. The engines under
the stationary train suddenly erupted in a loud chugga-chugga-chugga
that made her jump. They did that at irregular intervals, but no-one
seemed to know why.
Without warning, the carriages lurched forward, banging against
each other as they picked up power from the ground rails with
different degrees of efficiency. The tube actually ran more smoothly

10 John Lambshead
Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 10
when it was full. With no passengers, it tended to rattle about like an
empty container ship. The whine of heavy-duty electric motors under
load built up. Rhian had hopes that they were on their way when the
brakes came on again, slamming the cars to a halt.
The shadow of another figure appeared in front of her. She reached
for her ticket, glanced up to proffer it and her heart thumped. An old
woman in a dirty brown shroud and long dress looked at her in
“What do you want?” asked Rhian.
The woman didn’t answer. She shimmered and Rhian could see
through her to the empty bench seats opposite. Rhian’s mouth went
dry. This had happened to her before on the tube. She found it
upsetting, but the specters seemed to be tied to particular places, so
they vanished as soon as the train passed on.
The train moved. Speed was difficult to estimate in the dark
tunnel, but Rhian concluded that they were travelling at a slow walking
pace. More images flickered on the edge of her peripheral vision but
faded when she looked directly at them. The whispering started again,
building up until it filled the carriage like white noise in which Rhian
could almost make out odd words. She fidgeted uneasily, never
experiencing such a strong haunting before on a train.
The carriage filled with specters that solidified as the train inched
forward. A little girl in a threadbare coat and long skirt designed for
an adult woman sidled right up to her and said something, actually
spoke words.
“Mummy, Mummy, it’s dark, Mummy and I don’t like it. Why won’t
you come for me, Mummy? I’m frightened.”
Rhian put her hands over her ears to shut it out, but the piping
speech of the child was in her head. This had never happened before.
The train door opened at a station, and Rhian wanted to jump out, but
she could not bring herself to move through the ghostly figures.
A burly man shoved the others aside. He wore heavy workman’s
clothes and boots. He waved a misshapen green bottle in one hand.
“You bitch! I’ll teach you to go on the game.”
He threw the bottle at Rhian, who screamed and ducked, putting
her arm in front of her eyes. Once she started screaming she couldn’t
stop. It seemed to agitate the specters until they crowded around her,
cajoling, pleading, demanding, threatening.
Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 11
“No, no, leave me alone, please,” she said.
A door banged and someone gripped her by her right arm. She
fought and tried to pull free, the wolf clamoring within her.
“It’s all right, love. You’re all right. There’s no one here but us.”
Her arm was pulled from her eyes and she found herself looking
at the ticket man, who held a bulky black pistol in his right hand.
The spectres had gone.
“Do you need a doctor, love? I can get you one at the next station.”
“I’m okay,” she said, trying to catch her breath and failing, panting
with exertion.
“You’re having a panic attack and hyperventilating. Breathe into
this.” He spoke calmly, as if to a child. He produced a paper bag and got
her to breathe into it. She wondered vaguely if paper bags for hysterical
girls were standard kit for SAS men. After a few moments, her frantic
panting eased and she lowered the bag. She looked at his gun pointedly
and raised an eyebrow. Nobody carried guns in London, not the police
and certainly not ticket inspectors.
It was his turn to blush and he put the weapon out of sight in his
shoulder bag.
“I, ah, heard the screams and thought you were being attacked.”
“I must have had a nightmare.” She said the first thing that came
into her head and cursed that it sounded so lame. “Sorry.”
He grinned at her. “No harm done, love. Do you have a phone
number? Just so I can check later that you are okay.”
“No,” she lied, suspecting that his concern wasn’t entirely altruistic.
In other circumstances she might have found the young man’s interest
flattering, but she was not looking for a new relationship. It was far
too soon after James.
He pulled an old receipt and a pen out of his pocket and wrote
something down, giving it to her.
“You can always give me a call if you’ve another panic attack and
need someone to bring round a paper bag. I have a great bedside
I bet, thought Rhian, but she rewarded him with a smile and put
the number in her pocket so as not to appear rude.
The train finally pulled into a station and the doors slid open.
Rhian grabbed her bags and fled the train in embarrassment. On the

12 John Lambshead
Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 12
platform she organized herself, putting her rucksack on. When she
was ready, she looked around to find out where she was. A tube sign
announced that this was the Mile End Station.
The station was clean and modern looking, which surprised Rhian.
She had always lived in the western suburbs since she had first come
to London, and she had accepted western prejudices about the East
End. She could wait for the next train, but the incident had shaken her.
Maybe this was fate? Maybe she was meant to get off here? She could
continue eastwards later, by bus if she could not bring herself to get
on another tube.
Rhian struggled up the steps to the ticket hall and out onto the
street, blinking in the sunlight. As usual, the clouds had vanished
without disgorging water. She bought a local paper from a sales booth
at the station entrance. The headline was something about another
body being found. She had not bought the paper for the news, so she
ignored it.
The Mile End Road opposite the station was impassable on foot,
with dual carriageways separated by railings. So, being too tired to
struggle along the pavement with her bags until she found a pedestrian
crossing, she turned behind the station into the maze of small streets.
She came to high walls with a sign indicating Tower Hamlets
Cemetery. On the corner, where Hamlets Road ran into English Way,
was a traditional London pub. Traditional in the sense that it was run
down, with faded paint and rotten woodwork. Not traditional in the
sense that it had been given a spray-on makeover by a design
A tatty sign, which looked as it had been used as a target for spent
beer bottles, admitted that the premises were called the Black Swan. A
smaller, newer sign proclaimed that one Gary Hunter was the licensee.
Inside the furnishings were equally worn but surprisingly hygenic.
Rhian dumped her bags by a table and went to the bar. She was served
a by a clean-cut man in a striped rugby shirt. He was quite old, in his
thirties, but fit. Perhaps the rugby shirt was not just for decoration.
“What’ll it be, love?” he asked.
“A large Coke and two packets of plain crisps, please,” she said.
“One ninety-five.”
She sorted the money from the change in her purse and carried
her purchases back to the table, sitting on the bench seat that ran along
Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 13
the front wall under the windows. She sipped the Coke and ate the
crisps greedily.
“You were hungry,” the barman said.
“I haven’t eaten since yesterday.”
“You want to look after yourself or you will become all thin and
anorexic. You know what happens then, don’t you?” the barman asked.
“No,” she said, supplying the required answer, like a straight man
in a comedy duo.
“You have your picture taken wearing expensive clothes. You get on
TV, marry a footballer and become seriously rich and famous, especially
when you divorce him for sleeping with the entire cast of Girls Behaving
Badly. Of course, it helps if you had an abusive childhood as well, but
you can always get your PR people to invent something.”
Rhian nodded and smiled at him before unfolding the newspaper
and turning to the letting page. Taking out a biro from her bag, she
went carefully down the list of adverts, putting rings around likely
prospects. When she had finished, she slipped her mobile out of her
coat pocket and dialed the first number.
“Hello, I’m ringing about the room. Oh, it’s gone? Sorry to have
bothered you.”
The second number did not answer, so she dialed the third.
“I’m ringing about the flat share. Your advert in the paper says you
are looking for a girl? Oh, you have one. Sorry to have troubled you.”
And so it went on, until she was near the bottom of the page.
Rooms to let went quickly in London and the paper had been
published a few days ago. She dialed again without much hope.
“I understand from your advert in the paper that you need a female
flatmate but I suppose it’s gone? No! I could come round right away to
view it. How far is Vernon Road from the tube station? Right, number
three-A, I’ll be there in an hour.”
Rhian felt far more relaxed now. However bad the let was, she
would take it until something better came along or she moved on. For
a while, she had thought that she might have to find a woman’s hostel
for the night. She hated sleeping in hostels, as she always seemed to
get the roommate who snored or worse. She remembered one who
tried to get in bed with her. The next day the woman insisted that she
was sleepwalking and remembered nothing of the night’s activities.
Rhian had moved out nonetheless.

14 John Lambshead
Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 14
She opened the second packet of crisps and settled down to enjoy
them. The door to the gents flew open, banging against the wall. A
middle-aged man lurched out, weaving unsteadily between the tables.
He must have been in the toilet for the entire time that she had been
in the pub. The barman stopped cleaning glasses and watched warily.
The man sat down beside her on the bench seat. His closeness
made her uneasy, since he had the choice of the entire pub. She ignored
him and went on with her breakfast. He leaned over, blearily looking
at her newspaper, clearly finding it a challenge to focus on the print.
“Looking for somewhere to stay, girly?” he asked, obviously noting
the ringed adverts. “You can come back to my place if you like.”
He leered at her, guffawing at his own wit, and put his hand on her
Rhian panicked.
“Don’t touch me,” she screamed, pushing the drunk away.
Fear of what might happen if she lost control lent power to her
voice. She could not bear to think what might happen if she lost
control. Her Coke went over in the scuffle.
“I’ve warned you before about bothering girls in here.”
The barman appeared out of nowhere. He seized the drunk by the
scruff of his neck. Pushing him to the door, the barmen threw him out
into the street.
“You’re barred,” the barman said.
He stood for a while, making sure the drunk was really gone, then
returned to Rhian’s table.
“You spilt your drink,” the barman said to her. “Hold on and I’ll
get you another.”
He dashed back to the bar and, leaning over it, hosed out another
coke from the dispenser into a clean glass. He brought the drink back
and handed it to her.
“You’re trembling,” he said. “Honestly, he’s not dangerous, just a
stupid drunken pest. Would you like a brandy?”
“No, thank you,” she replied.
Alcohol could be disastrous when she was upset. The barman sat
with her for a while, apologizing all the time.
“Are you still looking for staff?” she asked, partly to deflect him.
She pointed to a sign on the wall above the bar.
“Yes,” he replied. “It will only be temporary, I’m afraid. The brewery

Wolf in Shadows TPB 1st Pass_Layout 1 3/12/13 4:59 PM Page 15
intends to gut the place and make it into a student theme pub. I believe
that the current plan is to do it out as the bar scene from Star Wars.”
The two of them looked at each other and shuddered
simultaneously. Rhian giggled with genuine humor, something that
she had not done for a while. It felt good.
“Students!” they said, together.
“I have to find somewhere to stay,” Rhian said.
“I overheard you,” said the barman. “My name’s Gary, by the way.
I’m the manager. If you want the job then come back this evening. I
won’t even hold being Welsh against you.”
“I may take you up on that,” she said. “The job, I mean.”

No comments:

Post a Comment