Extract: The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz
As a boy, Evan Smoak was taken from a children’s home, raised and trained as part of a secret government initiative buried so deep that virtually no one knows it exists. But he broke with the programme, choosing instead to vanish off grid and use his formidable skill set to help those unable to protect themselves.
One day, though, Evan’s luck runs out. Ambushed, drugged, and spirited away, Evan wakes up in a locked room with no idea where he is or who has captured him. As he tries to piece together what’s happened, testing his gilded prison and its highly trained guards for weaknesses, he receives a desperate call for help.
With time running out, he will need to out-think, out-manoeuvre and out-fight an opponent the likes of whom he’s never encountered to have any chance of escape. He’s got to save himself to protect those whose lives depend on him – or die trying.
Read on for an extract from The Nowhere Man!
The Nowhere Man
The Social Contract
Evan slipped through the plastic tarp into a new- construction McMansion, the spoils of Hector Contrell’s war on the broke families of East L.A. The house, distanced from its neighbors, topped an inclined driveway at the edge of Chatsworth.
Evan drifted through doorless frames, making silent progress toward the heart of the house. Studs framing the wide halls and exposed ceiling beams gave him the impression that he was walking into a massive rib cage, into Hector Contrell himself. Sawdust chalked the back of Evan’s throat. Nails protruded from the floor, poking the soles of his Original S.W.A.T. boots. The aggressively checkered gunner grips of a custom Wilson Combat 1911 pistol bit the flesh of his palm.
He found Contrell in the living room-to-be, ensconced like a pilot within a cockpit of computer monitors and servers from which he ran his flesh empire with impunity. A burly, bearded man wholly unhooked from the social contract, who took what he wanted because he wanted it. The high-tech station with its bluish glow and snaking cables seemed anomalous, sprouting up like a mushroom from the exposed subfloor.
Hector noticed movement in the shadows and stood, revolver quickly in hand. For a time, it seemed, he kept rising.
Standing just past the semicircle of pushed-together desks, Evan looked up at him. A FUCK YOU tattoo on the front of Hector’s neck indicated that nuance was not the man’s strong suit.
Hector said, ‘I don’t know who you are or why you’re here, but I’m gonna give you five seconds to leave before I aerate your torso.’ For emphasis he kicked one of the monitors off the desk, which went to pieces at Evan’s feet, sparking impressively.
Both men kept their guns down at their sides.
Evan watched the monitor give off a dying spark. Then he lifted his eyes.
‘One of the functions of anger is to convince people of the seriousness of your intentions,’ he said. ‘To signal that you’re out of control. Unpredictable. Willing to do damage. To evoke fear.’
Hector drew himself even taller. No minor feat. Backlit by the monitors, his meaty left earlobe showed a missing slot where an earring had been ripped free.
Evan took a step closer. ‘So look at me. Look at me closely. And ask yourself: Do I look scared?’
The big man leaned in, the glow of the computers turning his face into a shadow-ravaged landscape – empty eye sockets, pronounced jowls, the curve of one cheek. His thick lips pulsed, the first show of hesitation.
Evan’s gun remained at his side, just like Hector’s. They faced each other across the desk.
When Evan was fourteen, Jack had trained him how to fast-draw. It wasn’t with High Noon theatrics – unholster, lift, and aim. It was a two-millimeter tilt and 3.5 pounds of index-finger pressure.
The shadows shifted across Hector’s face. His beefy hand twitched around his gun. He moved first.
The plywood walls gave off a good echo.
Later that night Evan eased into the alley that ran behind the dilapidated apartment that accommodated Anna Rezian’s family. A sheen of blood had hardened on his left forearm, cracking like dried mud when he moved. He’d washed his hands and his face but could feel the leftover flecks on the side of his neck.
There’d been backspray.
He lifted his black phone from his pocket. It was a RoamZone model, encased in fiberglass and tough black rubber, the screen protected by Gorilla Glass. He kept it on him.
It was a lifeline. Not to him, but to those who called it.
He sent a text to Anna: OUTSIDE.
As he waited, a concern niggled at the base of his skull. He had seen something in Hector’s house – he didn’t know what it was, but it was wrong. Was his client in danger? No. He’d been thorough. Not a threat to her. Not a threat to him. Something else. Something important but not immediate.
Anna’s backlit silhouette appeared at the mouth of the alley about ten yards away. She wore a nightie, her spine hunched, her dry hair sticking out. The alley formed a wind tunnel, the October air whipping at her brunette tufts, making them wag stiffly.
‘You’re safe now,’ he told her.
Her feet were bare. He could see the tremble in her knees.
‘I thought you were one of them coming to get me,’ she said. ‘I thought walking down here would be the last thing I ever did. But then… but then it was you.’
‘I’m sorry I scared you,’ he said.
‘What does it mean? That I’m safe?’
‘You don’t have to worry anymore,’ he said.
‘Any of it.’
‘Has other concerns now.’
‘And his boss? The guy behind it all?’
Anna trudged forward, her scalp shiny in the spots where she’d plucked out her hair. Her face held the same look he’d seen in his other clients, a worn-through, hollowed-out expression that came from falling out of the slipstream of life.
‘Albert is safe?’ Her voice cracked. ‘And Eduard?’
Anna came closer yet, her cheeks glinting. ‘How about Maria? They won’t hurt Maria?’
‘There’s no one left to hurt Maria.’
Openly sobbing now. ‘Mayrig? Hayrig?’
‘Your mother and father will be fine.’
He thought of her family in their beds and wondered at the serenity they might offer her. At her age he hadn’t had much, which meant he’d had nothing to leave behind. As a twelve-year-old, he’d stepped off a truck-stop curb into a dark sedan and blipped off the radar. Back then any gamble was worth the taking. This one had gotten him out of East Baltimore. He’d been to Marrakech and St. Petersburg and Cape Town, and he’d left his mark in blood at every stop. But he’d never had what Anna had waiting for her upstairs. The chill breeze brought with it the realization that he’d devoted his life to preserving for others what he couldn’t have himself.
‘The pictures of me,’ she said. ‘They’ll be so ashamed.’
Before leaving Hector’s place, Evan had safed the house, finding little more than construction materials, empty beer bottles, a few hefty dumbbells in the garage. Fast-food wrappers layered a mattress thrown on the floor in one of the bare-bones rooms upstairs where Hector was living during the construction. Evan had gone back down to the comms center and dragged the considerable body out of the way. Once the cockpit was clear, he spent a few stomach-churning minutes navigating the databases, clicking through the files of past ‘eligibles’ to locate the matching buyers. Client information was sparse and coded, but he forwarded it on to the local FBI field office. But not before wiping all information about Anna Rezian off the servers.
‘The pictures are gone,’ Evan said. ‘No one will have to know anything.’
Anna took an unsteady step to the side and lifted a hand to the cracked stucco wall. ‘Eduard. He’s safe now. He’s safe.’ Still working it through, thawing out of denial.
‘You’re all safe.’
Anna’s face wobbled, and for a moment it seemed she might come apart entirely. ‘I don’t know how I can face them. Knowing what I almost did to us all. I’ll never forgive myself.’
‘That’s up to you.’
She looked stung by his response. Tears clung to her lashes. She bit her lips. Her chest rose, her nostrils flaring. Deep breath. Exhale. The tears did not fall.
‘You’re not to call me again,’ Evan said. ‘Do you understand? This is what I do. But it’s all that I do.’
‘Albert and Maria are okay now.’ Her lips barely moved. Her voice, little more than a whisper. ‘Mayrig and Hayrig. And Eduard. Eduard.’
‘Anna, I need you to focus. Look at me. Look at me. I have one thing to ask of you before I leave.’
Her eyes found a sudden clarity. ‘Anything.’
‘Find someone who needs me. Like you did. It doesn’t matter if it takes a week or a month or a year. You find someone who is desperate and has no way out. Give them my number.’
‘Yes, 1- 855- 2- NOWHERE.’
Every call was digitized and sent over the Internet through a series of encrypted virtual private network tunnels. After pinging through fifteen software virtual telephone switch destinations around the globe, it came through his RoamZone.
‘Yes. You tell them about me.’
‘Like Nicole Helfrich’s dad when he found me in the 7-Eleven?’
‘Like that. You find someone. Tell them I’ll be there on the other end of the phone.’
That was the final step for his clients. A task, a purpose, an act of empowerment that transitioned them from victim to rescuer. Evan knew all too well that some wounds never healed, not fully. But there were ways to contain the pain, to take ownership over the scars, and this was one of them.
Anna lunged at him and wrapped him in a hug. For a moment his arms floated a few inches above her thin back. He was unaccustomed to this kind of contact. In the moonlight he could see the wine-colored streak on his forearm, the dark half-moons beneath his nails. He didn’t want Hector Contrell’s blood on her clothes, in her hair. And yet Anna’s embrace tightened, her face pressed into his chest.
He lowered his arms. She was warm. He felt the wetness of her cheek through his T-shirt. She clung to him.
Her voice came muffled. ‘How do I thank you?’
Evan said, ‘Be with your family.’
He’d meant it as the next instruction, but it struck him that it was also the answer to her question.
She stepped back to wipe her eyes, and he took the opportunity to slip away.