It’s not often I get inspired by a visit to the gym. I get bored too easily and think of all the writing I could be doing instead. Not that I get any specific ideas there, because a gym with over-loud music just doesn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s the pain as well.
But this one time I got one. An idea. And it illustrates how something seemingly insignificant will stick in the memory until days or even months later.
I’d just completed Close Quarters, the second in the Marc Portman Watchman spy thriller series, and was toying with what to do next. I hadn’t anything specific in mind, but I knew I wanted to try something different, for a break, to see what came out. I’ve always worked that way, switching between magazine short fiction, features and books, and within the book genres themselves; from the Inspector Lucas Rocco crime series set in France (Death on the Marais, etc.), to the Harry Tate spy thrillers (Red Station, etc.).
Anyway, empty of brain, I opened the locker to put away my clothes, and saw a business card on the shelf. A white one, stark against the dark interior, with a name, telephone number and address—I forget the details, but they’re irrelevant. When I turned it over out of idle curiosity, I saw it had my name scrawled on it. Adrian.
OK, that was a bit spooky for a second, but that was all and I knew it wasn’t addressed to me. Call me psychic. Probably the beginning of a message that never was, for another Adrian.
I put it back, did my session of self-torture and went home. Except something about what I’d seen in the locker wouldn’t let go. What hit me was the sheer randomness of a piece of card with my name on it being in a locker at a public gym.
And I kept thinking, what if… ? What if it wasn’t a guy’s name written on the card, but a woman’s? What if the woman—let’s call her Nancy—was the mother of a little girl named Beth, arrived at her gym one morning to find a card lying on the bottom of her chosen locker. And what if it was addressed specifically to her. To Nancy.
You’re at your usual locker at Fitness Plus. The time is approx. 09.15. Your cell phone is dead, your home phone won’t answer and your daughter Beth is alone with Tiggi, her cute Polish nanny.
It will take you 18 minutes to get home. If you drive fast.
Shame. You’re already 18 minutes late…
Just as the note said, her cell phone is dead and the landline doesn’t answer. When she gets home there’s no sign of Beth or the nanny. She receives only two instructions: she mustn’t tell the police but she has to tell her husband, Michael.
The problem is she has no way of reaching him, as he’s a charity field worker somewhere in Africa or the Middle East. She recalls, however that he’d impressed on her one important fact: that if anything out of the ordinary ever happened, she should call a special number and mention the code word Red.
Very shortly afterwards, two people arrive. One is a former British soldier and cop, Ruth Gonzales; her colleague, Andy Vaslik, is an American, former Department of Homeland Security agent. They are investigators with a private security contractor/insurance company called Cruxys Solutions, and they’ve come to solve the problem of Beth’s kidnap and provide whatever other assistance she might need.
The first thing they have to do is find and contact Nancy’s husband, Michael, who is clearly fundamental to the kidnappers’ actions, although they have no idea why. But that soon proves easier said than done.
Because Michael is not only out of reach, he doesn’t seem to have a footprint: no bank account, no documentation, a seemingly invented past… and only Nancy’s word that he actually exists.
It’s not long before other queries begin to mount, such as why have the family moved house several times within a short period? Is the nanny, Tiggi, in on the kidnap? Who would have been close enough to know which locker Nancy might use… and how did they disable her cell phone? And why does Michael appear not to exist?
When they discover that Nancy has been under covert surveillance from a nearby empty house, and is then subjected to an attempted snatch off the street, followed by the murder of a charity expert Ruth Gonzales has consulted, it’s soon very clear that this is no ordinary kidnap-for-ransom, and involves something much darker and deeper, with implications involving international terrorism.
And that’s how THE LOCKER, and the start of a whole new series, was born. By chance encounter with a piece of card, followed by a whole series of what ifs.
The best thing for me is, it was great fun to write, and allowed me to go back to my other books with a whole fresh perspective.
Adrian Magson is the author of 19 crime and spy thrillers, a YA ghost novel and WRITE ON! – a writers’ help book.
His latest books are CLOSE QUARTERS, (Severn House), the second in the ‘Watchman’ series of spy thrillers, and THE LOCKER (Midnight Ink – out January 8) the first in a new thriller series featuring private security investigators Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vaslik.