There is an evil cabal at the heart of government. For years it has bribed, blackmailed, and murdered in pursuit of global domination. In an attempt to destroy it, Tom Clemens rigged the presidential election. His candidate won, but the conspiracy wasn’t stopped. Framed for murder, Tom is on the run. Searching for evidence of the cabal’s plans, he is in Manhattan when the impossible happens. People attack one another. The victims die. They come back. Zombies.
Uncertain who created the outbreak, but knowing it’s connected to the conspiracy, Tom flees New York. As law and order breaks down, the undead spread throughout America. Tom searches for the scientist who might be able to stop the outbreak, unaware that the conspirators are searching for him.
From Surviving the Evacuation, this is the story of Sholto, the beginning of the outbreak, and the people who tried to stop it.
Please note: As the President of the United States is a background character, and the presidential election a background event, American English has been used in this book though with some British spellings in deference to the fact that most of Surviving the Evacuation takes place in the United Kingdom.
Prologue - Inauguration
January 20th, Washington, D.C.
“Another bomb went off, did you hear?” Max asked. The aide closed the door to the Oval Office, leaving Tom Clemens alone with Grant Maxwell, the newly sworn-in President of the United States. Despite himself, the reason he was there, and what his friend had said, Tom couldn’t help but stare in wonder at the room. Somehow it was simultaneously larger and smaller than he’d imagined.
“It was in Tulsa,” Max continued. “A crowded shopping mall.”
Tom turned back to his friend. “I watched it on the news, in the residence with Claire,” he said, belatedly remembering to add, “Mr President.”
“Mr President? I don’t think I’ll get used to being called that,” Max said.
“I imagine every occupant of this office has said the same thing,” Tom said. “Do you know the death toll?”
“In Tulsa? That’s what’s puzzling. The bomb was planted in a unit that was being refurbished. Two painters died, but that’s all. Dozens were injured, and hundreds have been hospitalized after the attacks in Richmond and Carson City, but it could have been worse. A lot worse.”
A door opened. Charles Addison, the president’s chief of staff, entered. “Sir, it’s time,” he said.
“Already?” Max asked.
“The press are in the briefing room, sir,” Addison said.
“Give me a minute, Chuck,” Max said. Addison left, shaking his head in frustration.
“You’re going to address the nation?” Tom asked.
“I have to,” Max said. “We’ve cancelled the inaugural balls. Unfortunately, someone announced it was out of respect. The truth is that it’s a security decision and there’s no point trying to hide it. The truth will get out, and I don’t want to start my presidency on a lie.”
Tom winced. That comment hit too close to the reason he’d been waiting all day to speak to the president.
“I have to allay the nation’s fears,” Max continued. “Although there is precious little reason to think this crisis is over. You know my predecessor called? He told me that this, today, is the job. Hell if I know what that means. But I’ll tell you this, I’m not going to let education reform get sidelined because of domestic terrorism.”
“You think it’s domestic?”
“I don’t know what to think, not yet, but the FBI believes it’s home-grown. There’s something to do with some intercepted emails and a bomb profile that I didn’t begin to understand. If education is our first priority, replacing the director of the FBI just became our second. And now,” he added, “I have to go on television and reassure people so that, tomorrow, they go to work. Not that we know this is even over.” He picked up a leather-bound folder from the desk. “Take a look.”
Tom took the folder. Inside was the president’s statement. “Gregson wrote this? There’s nothing about the first-responders. Single out their heroism. Say that their devotion to their job is second only to their concern for their fellow citizens. And at the end, finish with something like ‘Here we stand, bloodied but unbowed, together, united’. Or something like that.”
“Is this the time to use the election slogan?” Max asked. “Wouldn’t that seem as if I was making some statement to those that didn’t vote for me?”
“Or that you hadn’t forgotten the reason that the majority did.”
“Maybe.” Max sounded unconvinced. He took out a pen and made a note. “Can’t say ‘citizens’,” he added. “The bomb in Richmond was at a convention hall. An international symposium on the history of democracy and the American dream. Historians, Tom. How does killing them help a terrorist’s cause?” He sighed. “Some first day. I know I promised we’d talk over dinner, but that’s not going to happen. I don’t even think dinner’s going to happen. Can you say what you need to in a minute?”
Tom could, but it wasn’t news of the bombings that made him hesitate. He’d planned, schemed, plotted, and broken dozens of laws to ensure that his friend was elected. Once he made his confession, and explained why he’d done it, everything would change. Not just his life and the direction of Max’s presidency, but the entire world. Yet staying silent wouldn’t halt the conspiracy.
“It’s a long story,” he began. His mouth was dry. He coughed. “The short version—”
The door opened.
“Mr President,” Addison said. “It’s time.”
“Mr President,” Max repeated. “No, I really don’t think I’ll ever get used to being called that. Walk with me, Tom.” Tom fell into step beside the president as they left the Oval Office and headed toward the press briefing room. “What was it you wanted to tell me?”
“It can wait,” Tom said. “There’ll be time after you’ve addressed the nation.”
“There won’t,” Max said. “I’ve got to decide whether the stock market should open tomorrow, and then take calls from world leaders. Apparently they’ll need reassuring. Not sure why since it’s our country that’s under attack.” Max stopped walking. There was a murmur from the lead agent in his security detail as this was relayed to the control room.
“I can see this is eating you up, Tom,” Max said. “Whatever it is, tell me now.”
Tom looked at the secret service agents blocking the corridor. This wasn’t how he’d imagined it. He couldn’t simply tell Max, he needed to explain, and this wasn’t the place for that.
“Is it that bad?” Max asked. “It is. I can tell from your expression. Tell me. Please.”
Tom saw genuine concern in his friend’s eyes. All that he’d planned to say, and how he’d planned to say it, was forgotten. The words came out in a rush, and in the wrong order.
“There’s a conspiracy,” Tom said. “It’s wide-ranging, and its members are in the highest of offices. They tried to take control of the White House. That’s why I asked you to run, and why I made sure you won.”
Max’s face crinkled in puzzlement. “What are you talking about?”
“The election was rigged, Max. I won you the nomination. I had to make sure America was being led by someone honest and untainted by the conspiracy.”
“Is this a joke?”
The weight of history exuding from the walls, the stress of waiting, not just today, but for years, the presence of the agents, it was making Tom babble. He pushed on, knowing that time was running out, that he had to finish, had to find a way of making the president understand.
“The Super-PAC who ran those ‘who can’t you trust’ ads, I paid for them. I hacked Farley’s email. The recording where you asked General Carpenter to be the VP, I leaked it to the press. The photographs of Claire, I—”
Max’s fist smashed into Tom’s jaw. He staggered back a step. Before he’d time to take another, two secret service agents grabbed his arms, and a third stepped between him and the president.
“Get him out of here,” Max said.
“Max, I—” Tom began.
“Get him out!” Max yelled, before turning on his heel, and storming down the corridor.
Barely a minute later, Tom was outside. He stared at the hulking secret service agent. Had they heard what he’d said to the president? Could they be trusted?
“You should go home, sir,” the agent said.
Tom sighed. It was tiredness. It was stress. It was the exhaustion that came with having lived a life of secrets. He’d said it all wrong, but there was no point arguing, at least not with the suited figure standing before him.
“My car,” he said, “it’s parked in the residence.”
“Maybe you should leave it there until tomorrow,” the agent said, in a tone that made it clear that wasn’t a suggestion.
“I suppose I’ll get a cab,” Tom said. “Tell him, I’ll… I’ll wait for his call.”
The agent’s expression cracked. “He’s the president, sir. He doesn’t need to call. If he wants you, he can send in a SEAL team.”
Tom forced a smile at the reference to a line from the final presidential debate.
“Go home, sir,” the agent repeated.
But when he got in the cab, Tom gave the driver the address of a restaurant to which he’d never been.
Tom Clemens was a political fixer. Under other names, and he’d had many, he was a criminal who’d stolen, bribed, and blackmailed in pursuit of his own ambitions. He’d discovered the conspiracy by accident while testing the effectiveness of a set of stolen passwords. At first, he’d thought he’d stumbled across another black-book project, and one that wasn’t even operating in the United States. He’d kept investigating because of the link between it and the British politician Tom held responsible for the deaths of his family. As he’d untangled each thread, he’d uncovered a widespread plot that stretched far beyond the web of that particular MP.
Though its origins were in Britain, the cabal was truly transatlantic. Its members cared nothing for policies, parties, or people, but only in acquiring enough power to impose its dystopian doctrine upon the world. Those who wouldn’t submit would be destroyed. At first, Tom hadn’t believed what he’d found. As he’d pieced the fragments into a coherent picture, he couldn’t believe he was the first to have discovered the plot. Then he’d learned that he wasn’t. Some had had their silence bought. Others had been killed.
He’d dug, searching for the names of all the conspirators. Even now, he hadn’t found them all. During those early years, he’d been lulled into a false sense of the cabal’s influence. Each name he’d discovered belonged to an elderly politician whose power was waning. Had he learned of this terrible truth twenty years before, even ten, his instinct would have been to wreak a murderous vengeance on each conspirator as soon as they were identified. Experience had taught him there was a better way. He’d planned to expose the conspiracy for what it was: a lunatic fantasy of power-mad vultures, unaware that the world no longer wanted their blood-drenched vision of the future. And then, Senator Paul Farley had announced his run for the presidency.
No, he still didn’t know the identity of all the conspirators, but Farley was at the dark heart of the vile group. As the campaign season began, and candidates in both parties announced themselves, Tom finally understood how wrong he’d been. The conspirators’ influence hadn’t waned. They’d ensured Farley would face no credible opponent. He would walk to the nomination, stroll to November, and civilization would be crawling on its knees before the midterms.
Tom had considered killing Farley, and might have done it if he’d been able to guarantee that there wasn’t another candidate ready to pick up the torch of the dead senator. Martyrdom would make their victory easier. The only solution was to field a candidate against Farley, and so steal the nomination from him. That was what Tom had done. Yes, he’d rigged the election, but the contest had been fixed before he’d persuaded Max to throw his hat in the ring. That didn’t excuse his actions, but he’d seen no other course open to him. No matter how ham-fisted his attempt, he’d been right to tell Max the truth today. Out of a sense of party unity, Farley had been appointed secretary of state. There had been no effective way of dissuading Max without telling him of Farley’s involvement in the conspiracy, and no way of doing that without revealing the truth about the nomination, the election, and every other dark secret. Out of fear that his honest friend would refuse the oath, he’d waited until after Max had been sworn in.
Perhaps Max would resign, and this would become the shortest presidency in history. Perhaps not, but it wouldn’t alter what was going to happen to Tom next. Tomorrow, or more likely later tonight, Max would summon him. Tom would tell him everything and every name he’d been able to discover. That would only be the beginning. Max was a truly good and honest man, and there was no way Tom would avoid a federal prison. So be it, a life in jail was far better than a world of ash, where there was no one left to even dig a grave.
“I think the police are following us,” the cab driver said, cutting through Tom’s thoughts.
He turned around in the seat. Sure enough, a police cruiser was fifty yards behind. “Is it flagging you down?”
“Then they want to make sure I go home,” Tom said.
“Who does?” the driver asked, his tone suddenly anxious.
Tom had wanted a last meal at an absurdly expensive restaurant. Something to remember during the years of imprisonment that stretched before him. It wasn’t to be.
“Change of plans,” he said. “Take me to Kensington.” He’d bought a house in that Maryland suburb because the name had kindled memories of his youth. Not that he’d ever lived in that central London borough, but he had visited and dreamed of living in one of the grand houses. He’d bought this house shortly after he’d decided that Grant Maxwell had to stand for the presidency. He’d known then that his dream of living in Britain was just that: a fantasy that had kept him company during the three decades since, as a teenager named Thaddeus, he’d fled to America. This house was as close as he’d get. He knew it was likely to be the last one he’d ever own, and that he wasn’t likely to own it for long.
He stood on the curb, watching the cab’s red lights disappear. The police cruiser had followed him home and was now stopped a hundred yards down the quiet street.
“Maybe I should have told you sooner,” Tom said, rubbing his jaw. “I guess today’s lesson is that there’s a time and a place, and that I’m not much good at picking the right one. Still, it’ll make an interesting anecdote for the history books.”
He raised a hand, waving at the police. They’d been sent on Max’s orders, he was sure. He could imagine the two officers speaking to their control room. There, the duty officer would be standing ramrod straight, awaiting instructions relayed from the White House.
“Go on, Max. Let’s end this now.”
The officers stayed in the car, and he began to feel ridiculous. He gave the cops another wave before walking up the path to his house. Whatever tomorrow would bring, tonight he’d make the most of his freedom. A cold drink, a comfortable chair, and that documentary about how Max had won the election. He enjoyed listening to the pundits with their oh-so-wrong conclusions. His smile froze. The light above the door hadn’t come on.
He’d replaced the bulb… when? It was after the election. Christmas, that was it. When he’d gone looking for a bulb, the stores were all closed. He hadn’t realized it was Christmas Day. He looked up and down the street, but other than the police, he was alone. It was a busted bulb, he told himself. He grabbed the key from his pocket, opened the door, and his heart skipped a beat. The hall lights didn’t come on. That was wrong. Very wrong. He’d rigged it so the wall-light to the left of the door flickered. Anyone entering would glance toward it and so present their face to the camera hidden in the fitting.
“It’s the fuses,” he said, trying to believe it. He stepped inside and flipped the switch. The hall lit up. The polished floor, the ornate mirror, the solitary cabinet; it was all unchanged from when he’d left that morning, yet old instincts told him not to believe it.
Shifting his weight to the balls of his feet, bunching his fists, cocking his head, listening not just for sound but for its absence, he crossed to the cabinet. It had the appearance of a baroque antique, but he’d designed it himself. The ornate curls of the elaborate fretwork had been fashioned to conceal the hidden panel. He slid it back. The compartment inside was empty. The gun was gone.
His mouth went dry. Some part of his dark past had caught up with him. He’d lived a life of aliases, all of which had more enemies than friends. As he inched along the polished floor, memories came back to him of the people he’d been and the names he’d used. Above all the others, there was one that had caused more trouble for more people than any other: Sholto.
His heart beat faster and became all that he could hear. Wanting to get the confrontation over with, he ran into the living room. He spun around, fists raised. There was no one there. He slammed a hand against the light switch. The room lit up. No, there was no one there. No one living.
He recognized the body instantly. It was Imogen Fenster. She was a journalist and, at twenty-six, already ran one of the world’s largest networks of independent reporters. They’d met on the campaign. In her search for an angle that no one else had covered, she’d turned her inquisitive eyes to him. Ostensibly, he was an old friend of the candidate, and most of the press had bought that line. She hadn’t. She’d dug into his past and discovered a few breadcrumbs. Not enough to sink the campaign, but enough to destroy him. He’d had no choice but to tell her about Archangel, Prometheus, and the conspiracy. Without naming names, he’d revealed enough that she’d wanted to look for more. It had been a test. His way of assessing whether she could be the backup plan he’d been seeking. Someone on the outside, in case everything went tragically wrong.
She’d been shot once. The bullet had entered above her right ear. Blood had pooled around her skull, turning her blue-dyed hair a dark, matted brown. It was obvious why she’d been killed. Not killed. Murdered. Here. Tonight. And then he saw what he’d been looking at all along. His gun lay next to the body.
His phone was already in his hand. He swiped the screen, bringing up the keypad. He tapped in a six-digit number and pressed dial. Instead of placing a call, an app opened, one that he’d had specially written. It showed the security cameras inside the house. Half of those streamed static. That was as it should be. Those were the cameras they were meant to find. He scrolled back through the others until he watched Imogen enter the house. She wasn’t alone, but with a man dressed in the government uniform of a dark suit and tie. The man was in his thirties with a boyish face framed under a shock of white hair. Imogen wasn’t a prisoner; she marched into the house with a smile. She stopped in the den. There was enough time for puzzlement to furrow her brow before the white-haired man drew the revolver and fired. She collapsed. The man put the gun on the floor, and left.
The time stamp said it had happened while he, Tom, had been in the residence with the first lady. This wasn’t the time and place to consider the full implication of that. He put the phone away. Precisely who that white-haired man was, Tom didn’t know. He could guess the name of the man he worked for: Farley. Proving it would take time, but he could now rely on the full might of U.S. security services to do that.
There was the sound of an engine outside. Blue and red lights danced through the window. The police. He crossed quickly to the front door and looked out. It was the cruiser that had followed him from the White House.
He’d already turned the latch before he checked himself. He glanced at his phone. Max hadn’t called. The secret service agent was right. If Max wanted him, he didn’t have to call, but nor would he send a couple of uniformed cops. They got out of the car. The officers wore bulletproof vests over their uniforms. It didn’t seem right. The vests had no police markings and seemed bulkier than standard issue equipment.
Of course it wasn’t right. Farley’s agents had discovered and disabled some of the cameras. They would have assumed there were others. The body had been left and the gun dropped, but they hadn’t finished staging the crime scene. A vital element was missing. They couldn’t risk him speaking to a lawyer, or even being seen entering a police station. No, they would kill him here. The police report would state that the two officers responded to the sound of gunfire, forced an entry, and shot him dead. The coroner would be bribed, the time of Imogen’s death faked, witness statements forged, and the whole thing would get forgotten.
The cops were on the path, approaching the house. There was no more time. He had to escape.
He went to the rear of the house, opening the sliding glass doors that led to the garden. He’d prepared for this. If he’d chosen the neighborhood because of the name, he’d selected the house because of its ease of escape. That had been two years ago, and he’d not thought about it in the time since. Mud had drifted up around the loose section of fence. Splinters dug into his hands as he dragged the wood free. He let the panel fall conspicuously on the lawn.
There were no lights on in the neighboring house, and no easily stolen car left in the drive. That was frustrating, but not an insurmountable problem. He pulled out the phone and opened the app that would summon a cab.
He walked quickly, but didn’t run. It would attract too much attention. He’d been pursued often enough to know that you didn’t run until you had to, and he knew he’d have to soon enough.
When they found he’d gone, Farley’s men would call in for orders before they began their pursuit. That gave him time, not much, but more than he needed. He would call Max and send him the video of that man killing Imogen. After that, it would be a long night of questioning and the rest of his life in jail. Perhaps he’d get a presidential pardon. Perhaps.
A car pulled over to the curb fifty feet ahead. His phone chimed. It was the cab. He didn’t relax, but his muscles fractionally unclenched. He’d make the call from the car. Not to Max, since he no longer carried a phone, but to the First Lady, Claire. He’d send the video to her. She would give it to Max, and by the time the cab reached the White House, his innocence would have been proven.
He was level with the cab, reaching for the passenger door when he saw the driver’s reflection in the side mirror. The hair was hidden under a hat, but that face was the same one he’d seen marching Imogen into his home. He took a step back, and another. The driver’s door flew open. The assassin stepped out. Now was the time to run if it wasn’t already too late. He darted down the sidewalk, glanced back, saw the face, the hand, the gun.
As a bullet pocked against concrete, he leaped over an ornamental hedge, rolling across the lawn on the other side. There was another muffled retort. Grass flew a few inches from his hand. The gun was silenced, not that it mattered. A barrage of artillery might bring police uniforms, but he couldn’t trust the people wearing them. He picked himself up and sprinted for the edge of the house. A flowerpot exploded as he ducked out of sight. He heard glass breaking. He didn’t look back. The house lights came on, illuminating the rear garden as he ran across it. There was an indistinct yell that turned to a scream, and was abruptly cut short. He stopped, but there was nothing he could do. He shoulder-charged the fence, knocking it down.
He was in an alley, about five feet wide with a brick wall immediately in front. The next house had a wooden fence. He ran over to it, kicked until a panel came free, and dragged it out of the way. He didn’t cross into the garden. He kept running down the alley until he was hidden behind the bulk of a white oak. He waited, watching. The assassin bounded into the alley, but barely paused before running to the gap Tom had kicked in the fencing. The white-haired man disappeared through it.
When he was sure the man wasn’t coming out, Tom doubled back on himself, running soft-footed down the alley. The alley led to a road. The road to a park.
He stopped and took out the phone. It was broken. He cursed. On the other hand, the white-haired man had been in the cab, he’d probably been tracking the phone. He dropped it on the ground.
What he had to do was obvious. He had to get online, retrieve a copy of that video, and get it to Max. He began walking. It was many years since he’d been on the run, but old habits came back to him. He picked up his pace, determined that the conspiracy had claimed its last victims.