by Lexi Revellian
When Beth’s eccentric boss at the government research lab asks her to try out his latest duplicating machine, she’d be crazy to do any such thing. She’s not cleared for this, insured or authorized; it’s late Friday evening and she wants to go home. But Beth is fatally unassertive. She agrees, and unknown to her another Beth is created.
The replica overhears MI5 chief, Sir Peter Ellis, discussing her future and it’s not good. Terrified, she goes on the run. Penniless, friendless and homeless, she has to find the inner strength and aggression to survive on icy London streets.
Spec op Nick Cavanagh likes to win. Though Beth thinks he’s outside her apartment to protect her, in fact he’s hunting her double. As the replica proves difficult to catch and the stakes get higher, he has to decide whose side he is on.
Nick drove too fast along Kensington High Street, cutting up other drivers and speeding through amber lights, tailgating anyone who in his opinion should be driving faster.
Ollie waited till they had to stop at a red light. “What’s the rush? Paul and Dario are there if the target turns up. They’ll think it funny us arriving two hours early, anyway.”
“I don’t give a toss what they think. They let her get away.” Nick’s fingers drummed on the steering wheel. The lights changed, and he accelerated, making a woman jump back to the safety of the traffic island. “If I’d been there I’d have got her. Pete should have sent us.”
“He didn’t expect her to turn up at her flat.”
“No, and I bet when she did Paul was making a cup of tea and Dario was going through her underwear drawer.”
Ollie laughed. “So what can we do they can’t?”
“We’re going to do it better. Stay out of sight in the van and wait for her to turn up again. Follow Beth One wherever she goes. Getting to her has to be what replica Beth is playing for. The two Beths talk to the press, it’s out, nothing we can do, game over.”
“So we’ll be off our other jobs for as long as it takes, I suppose. Nice break for the terrorists.”
Nick was quiet for a while, then he said, “Maybe.”
“How d’you mean, maybe?”
“Just, I can’t see Pete throwing in the towel. Saying, oh, all right, now you two totally unimportant secretaries, who just happen to have got mixed up in this top secret research we’ve spent millions of pounds on know about each other, we’ll accept it and go public.” Nick braked hard to avoid collision with a cycle courier, then hit the accelerator. “There’s no way he’ll risk that happening.”
Ollie gripped the handle above the door. “Take it easy, Nick.”
“D’you ever worry about the ethics of what we do?”
“Not a lot. I’m too busy worrying about your driving.”
“Okay, but what about this; supposing catching her is harder than everyone seems to think? He isn’t going to keep all of us running around after her forever. I’d give it a week, maybe two, tops. He’s a ruthless bastard. I reckon, if we don’t find her fast, the original will go missing. Then if the copy turns up, it’s like, boring secretary loses marbles, gets persecution complex, thinks MI5 are after her, goes on the run, ends up in padded accommodation with no one believing a word she says. To be honest, I’m surprised he hasn’t done it already. He must be going soft in his old age.”
Ollie smiled at Nick. “If we can’t catch her in a week we’re not trying. Are you worrying about the ethics of it, then?”
“Me? No. I do what I’m told, I get paid. End of.”
Ollie and Nick slouched in the cab of the van, staring down Beth’s road. Nick watched her doorway via the side mirror and the one-way windows at the rear of the van, Ollie the approach from the main road. Two more men covered the railway and the back of the house, while Paul and Dario were hiding out in an Islington Council truck. There had been nothing to see except the builders at number twenty-two having a smoke, a couple of cats wandering around, and a traffic warden peering at parking permits. They’d driven round the block till he left. The temperature inside the elderly van now matched the temperature outside, but they’d done more boring surveillance in worse conditions, and had a high tolerance of discomfort and tedium. The daylight took on a pale luminescence; fine crystals of snow drifted past the window and settled on the glass.
The Islington truck’s lights came on, its engine rumbled and it pulled out from the kerb, went to the end of the cul de sac, turned and headed off.
“Ten minutes early,” remarked Nick.
“Be fair, no point in four of us hanging around.”
As he spoke, Beth’s door opened and she emerged, locking it behind her. Nick sat up. She walked to her Micra a little way down the road the other side from the van, then as she put her key in the door, something gave her pause. She went to the back of the car, lifted the boot and moved things around, got out the spare wheel, holding it awkwardly away from her coat, and propped it against the car.
“Flat,” Ollie said, unnecessarily.
They watched as she fetched the jack and wheel brace from the car and put them on the tarmac with the spare, went round to the passenger door, felt in the glove compartment, got out the manual and opened it.
“This may take some time.”
“At least it gives us something to watch.”
Carefully, Beth prised off the hub cap, and, consulting the manual, fitted the wheel brace to one of the nuts. Snow dusted her hair and her black jacket. She spent the next few minutes trying and failing to shift the nut, then moved on to the next with as little result. She looked around, went down the road and returned with a brick. Crouching, she hit the brace, and the brick skidded off and bashed her knee. Ollie winced and Nick grinned heartlessly, enjoying himself.
“Shall I nip out and give her a hand? Wouldn’t take a minute.”
Nick swivelled from watching Beth to face him. “Sometimes I think you’re in the wrong job, Oll. You haven’t grasped the meaning of undercover surveillance. The big idea is, it’s covert. The mark doesn’t know he, or in this case she, is being watched. Your job is to keep it that way. Why are you pulling those faces?”
A tap on the van window made him turn round. Beth stood there, her hair a red-gold halo in the grey light, the tip of her nose pink in her pale face. He wound down the window.
She smiled shyly. “Hi. I saw you when you arrived a couple of hours ago.” Ollie dug Nick in the ribs meaningly, his eyes glinting with suppressed amusement. Nick scowled at him. “We met this morning, at the safe house. I’m sorry, I’m hopeless with names…”
Beth glanced at Ollie.
“Ollie,” said Ollie, grinning.
“Hi.” Her eyes returned to Nick. “I’m trying to change my wheel, and I can’t get the nuts off. Do you think you could help me? Just with the nuts, I can do the rest myself. I don’t want to stop you…doing whatever you’re doing.”
Ollie moved with alacrity to open his door, but Nick repressed him with a look, shut the window and got out of the cab. He strolled to the car, adjusted the brace then brought his foot down sharply, his weight behind it. He did the same for the other three nuts, and reached for the jack.
“It’s okay, I can do the rest. Thank you very much.”
Nick ignored her. He fitted the jack under the chassis and started to turn the jack handle. The car lifted. Beth stood watching him, embarrassed. Her phone rang in her pocket, but she didn’t make a move.
Nick glanced up. “Aren’t you going to answer that?”
Beth’s cheeks were pink. She shook her head, looking unhappy. Nick undid the bolts and eased the wheel off the car, then manoeuvred the spare in its place. When he’d finished he put the old wheel neatly in the boot with the jack and brace, lowered the lid and turned to Beth, interrupting her thanks.
“Where are you off to?”
“It might be better not to go to your usual shop.”
“Oh…I suppose, if you think it’s really necessary…”
“Sir Peter does, or he wouldn’t have sent us. I’ll come with you if you like. I’d have to follow you anyway.”
“Er…okay, if it’s not taking you away…if…” Beth’s voice trailed off. Nick swivelled in the direction of her gaze, and saw a man in a duffle coat walking purposefully towards them. Beth didn’t seem very pleased to see him. She hadn’t been at ease while he changed the wheel, but now she looked almost panic-stricken.
“Friend of yours?” muttered Nick.
“Shall I tell him to piss off?”
“No, it’s okay.”
Rob reached them. “Bethie…” He gave her a serious smile. “Can we talk?”
“I’m going shopping.”
“This is important.”
“Well, all right, just for ten minutes.” She turned to Nick. “See you later.”
Nick spread his hands, black from the tyre. “Can I come in and wash?”
Beth said, “Sure.” Rob frowned, and she explained, “He changed my wheel for me.”
The three of them walked into the flat, no one saying anything, and Beth showed Nick the bathroom. He turned on the tap then moved silently to the open door and listened. A cat appeared and wove around his legs, purring. Propelled away with the toe of his boot, it returned without taking the hint.
“Who’s that man?”
“I don’t know.” Beth’s voice was almost too soft to hear. “He stopped to help.”
“Look, Bethie, about last night.” A short silence. “It shouldn’t have happened, I’m sorry it did, but it didn’t mean anything. Chloe was in a state over Rollo, and we had a few drinks, and…one thing led to another.”
Beth said something inaudible. Nick stepped over the cat and moved several paces along the hall.
“What do you take me for? Of course it was the first time! I wouldn’t cheat on you, lie to you. I can’t believe you’d think that of me.”
Nick rolled his eyes. The cat gazed at him balefully, and stalked off, tail in air.
“You’re my girlfriend. Chloe is just a very good friend – you don’t grudge me that, do you? You don’t mind me keeping in touch with her?”
“No, of course not…”
“Because if you do, tell me. I like to know where I stand.”
“I’ve never stopped you seeing Chloe! I never said anything. It’s just you sleeping with her I’m not keen on.”
“Beth, I’ve said, that was a one-off. It won’t happen again. I’ve said I’m sorry. I don’t see what more I can do, given that I can’t go back into the past and change what happened.”
Tosser. Nick retreated to the bathroom and washed his hands quickly, turned off the tap and listened again.
“I’m being honest with you, when I could have told you nothing happened. It’s not like you to be unreasonable.”
Nick coughed and walked heavily towards the living room. He put his head round the door. Beth was sitting on the sofa, the cat on her knee, while the waste-of-space boyfriend stood self-righteously in the middle of the carpet. They both turned to look at him.
“I’ll let myself out.”
This is an excellent and gripping story. I can’t see how it could possibly be improved.
After reading the first few chapters I wondered if the author could really have missed the obvious. I needn’t have worried. She not only makes clear that she is fully aware of it but makes the reader aware of why the obvious is not necessarily the best solution, and even if it was, life isn’t that straightforward. Because of this it strikes me that it takes a very brave, confident and competent person to even consider writing a book like this. I’m pleased to report that none of the situations seem forced and everyone behaves in character throughout. The book flows. Lexi has created a very human replica with all the fears, tears and elations one can expect from a gutsy heroine who is neither superhuman nor subhuman.
Few authors would incorporate true-to-life “accidents” to thwart their characters and fewer still would get away with it so naturally and successfully.
This is not a moralising novel about “cloning” or “replication” but a cracking good yarn which simply declares that humans should be treated with humanity.
From the Author
For years, I resisted writing because I knew I’d never be as good as Jane Austen. Finally I realized no one is as good as Jane Austen – I started writing and couldn’t stop. I’ve sold over 60,000 ebooks.
My first two novels are fantasy (Torbrek and the Dragon Variation and Trav Zander). The third, Remix, is contemporary fiction with elements of crime, investigation and romance, and tells what happens when Caz Tallis finds a strange man asleep on her roof terrace. He turns out to be – no, I’m not telling you, you’ll have to read it to find out… My fourth, Replica, is a thriller. Beth Chandler is unknowingly replicated in a flawed experiment, and falls for the man who is hunting her double. The latest is Ice Diaries, a post-apocalyptic story with romance and humour.
My day job is designing and making jewellery and silver under my real name, Lexi Dick. I’ve made pieces for Margaret Thatcher, 10 Downing Street, and Her Majesty the Queen.