The escapists: part 4
Clarke and Holland follow their guts
The Triverse is
Mid-Earth, an alternate 1970s London
Max-Earth, a vision of the 26th century
Palinor, where magic is real
Previously: Witness statements from a series of crimes on Palinor describe a balding male with a scar above one eye, a description which appears to match a known criminal from Earth. The only problem being that he’s still locked up in a prison cell in London. DC Clarke’s former partner is still sending him information from the parallel dimension but it seems like a dead end…
On duty: DC Frank Holland & DC Yannick Clarke
It had been a couple of days and they’d moved on to a fraud case: an aen’fa selling package holidays to Palinor that didn’t exist. Very elaborate set-up, an office right in the middle of the city, had all the fancy brochures - the guy looked the part. As soon as the money was transferred, he’d move to a new place and start over. The conman had done it in a clever way, but not quite clever enough, which meant the investigation had been fast and simple.
Clarke was bored.
The SDC was in a holding pattern in more ways than one. The new funding was caught up in bureaucracy, which also meant the new recruits and transfers hadn’t been finalised. They were still holed up in the same old office. Everything was paused.
“Yannick,” called Robin from the office door as she entered with a stack of post, “got a letter for you. Portal post!”
Styles’ case had turned out to be nothing more than a misplaced hunch, which was a shame. Clarke rather liked the idea of them working the same case on both sides of the Palinor portal. Holland had been less enthusiastic.
He opened the envelope and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. It was Styles alright, written with her usual scruffily expressive hand.
It gets a little chilly here in the evenings but it’s better than winter in London. It’s a dry cold, not that damp, clingy cold that sticks to your skin. My apartment is good - got to be twice as big as where I was living in London. There’s more space out here. Fewer people, I guess.
That case is still confusing everyone. We can’t track down the gang, the witnesses are still describing someone that fits George Collins’ description. I can’t explain it. We do have some descriptions of other members of the gang now, which might help (see included pic). Sorry again for wasting your time on that one. Has Holland stopped whining about it yet?
I met the captain of the guard here. One Captain Rexen. Have you heard of him? Imagine Walpole but cheerier. And with more muscles and a sword. In fact, they’re nothing alike. I like him, anyway. Seems like a good guy, doing a hard job. So I guess he’s similar to Walpole in that way.
I’m still settling in here. On the one hand, the work is great and exciting and keeps me busy. On the other hand, I don’t know anyone here. I miss The White Horse! Pubs here are different. More like inns - they serve a slightly different purpose. Less about socialising and more a vital part of the community. They serve as local trade hubs and rest spots for travellers.
Anyway. All the practical stuff is fine. Got he office set up, apartment is good. It’s everything else I’m finding surprisingly tricky. You know how I never stop going no about Palinor? How I know more about Palinese history than I do British history? How Holland used to always take the piss out of me for being so into it? Well, now I’m here and it’s all different. I’m no longer the most informed person in the room. Back in London I knew more about Palinor than pretty much anyone I knew or worked with. But here, I’m the tourist. The visitor. The people here LIVE here, if you see what I mean. When I’m not here, I dream of being here. Now that I am here, it’s like I’m not quite present. Like I left a piece of me back there in London. A bit like I’m two people, each one stuck on the other side of the portal, and I haven’t figured out how to merge them together.
Anyway, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. Just the wibbles. That’s what starting a new job is all about, right?
Take it easy, Clarke. Don’t let Holland give you shit. Remember: he’s a dick.
Clarke glanced up from the letter at Holland, who was sipping from a hip flask and staring at the evidence board. She wasn’t wrong. Working with the man was a daily mental sandpapering, taking all of Clarke’s patience just to get through without snapping.
A line in Lola’s letter tugged at Clarke’s mind, sending his thoughts on a convoluted journey back towards the mistaken identity case. Multiple incidents and witnesses identifying someone who looked like George Collins, who was already banged up in Thamesmead.
A bit like I’m two people.
He took a deep breath. It was clear he was clutching at straws, desperate to find something to give him an excuse to keep working with Styles. That was an odd one. She was far too young to be anything more than a friend - and, besides, he was pretty sure she wouldn’t be interested, and not because of his age. He didn’t think of her like a daughter, nothing so patronising, and he wouldn’t even know what being a father meant. Maybe that was it: she was a friend, and a colleague, and it didn’t have to be anything more or less. Maybe he’d never had anyone like that before.
Each one stuck on the other side of the portal.
There was another sheet of paper in the envelope, a witness sketch of a different person.
“Well, shit me,” Clarke muttered.
It was the same guard at Thamesmead as before, Clarke remembered his name being Crabbe, and he wasn’t pleased to have his lunch hour interrupted. Even Holland had been on board once Clarke had shown him the new sketch, and they’d made their way across town as quickly as possible.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Crabbe said. “What, you come to stare at them again for no reason?Fucking waste of my time, that’s what you lot are, with your fancy detective badges. Foil some terrorists - after they’ve fucking blown a load of shit up, mind - and suddenly you’re King of England, right?”
The cell block was quieter than their previous visit, with most of the prisoners out in the yard for an exercise session. Crabbe led them up the stairs to the space shared by Collins and his cell mate. “They’re not here right now,” Crabbe said, glancing at his watch. “Be back in ten, if you’re not in a hurry.”
“Open it up,” Holland said, giving an order rather than making a request.
Huffing, Crabbe fiddled with his ring of keys, laboriously flicking through each of them one at a time, before finally inserting one into the barred door and swinging it open. “There you go,” he said, leaning back against the walkway railing. “Take your time, my soup’s just getting colder by the minute, don’t mind me.”
Clarke entered the cell with Holland, taking in the room. It was the same as all the other cells. Nothing had changed from when they’d been there previously.
“What are we looking for?”
“Not sure,” Clarke said, “we’ll get something out of them when they get back in from outside.”
“It’s definitely him.”
“It definitely is. Two for two.”
The new sketch from Styles was of a very different man, and it had taken a couple of seconds to trigger Clarke’s memory. Once again, there was an odd familiarity. He’d shown the sketch to Holland, who had confirmed it: it was Collins’ cell mate. Which placed both of them on Palinor, at the same time as being locked up in a London prison.
There was nothing notable about the cell. A couple of photos on one wall, a poster on another. Clarke lifted a mattress and found a stack of porn magazines. “All pretty standard, so far,” he said.
Holland leaned closer. “How’d they get those in here? That’s mail order only.”
Moving to the tiny sink, Clarke picked up one of the toothbrushes. “Seems good as new.”
“There’s something blindingly obvious that we’re missing,” Holland said, “and it’s starting to fuck me off.” He paced the room, which didn’t take long, pulling at the frame of the bed, frustrated. “I can’t help but feel that they’re laughing at us.”
“You’re not wrong.”
Holland stood with his arms crossed, staring at the poster. It was a bikini-clad young woman from a movie. Clarke couldn’t remember the name of the picture or the actress.
“You know after this she never acted in a proper studio flick again?” Holland pointed. “She got lots of work but, you know, behind-the-counter stuff. Back alley projection.” Holland chuckled to himself, clearly pleased with something he’d said. “If you know what I mean.”
“Let’s head down to the interview room. I want to be there before they bring these two in from the yard.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Holland said. He was still leering at the poster. He rubbed his jaw with one hand, as if coming to a decision. “Ah, fuck it,” he said, and reached out, grabbing the corner of the poster and pulling hard. The poster came off the wall, tearing in half in the process. Holland let the loose part fall to the floor.
“Huh,” Clarke said. “That explains it.”
Holland took a step back and put his hands on his hips. “Yep, I’d say so.”
Behind the remains of the poster, now revealed, was a black void. Not a hole in the wall, but a total absence of material. A nothing space.
A portal tear.
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Thanks for reading!
Some chapters are easy to write, some are hard. That can be for all sorts of reasons. This chapter popped out pretty fast - I find that ‘big reveal’ chapters tend to be a bit like that. There’s a certain glee as a writer to getting to that moment and putting it down on the page.
You might have noticed I recently removed all of the chapter numbers from Triverse posts. That was following an observation from, who noted that including an incremental chapter number every week made it very obvious that this was a big story - and made it feel like there was a lot of homework to do to catch up.
I’ve shifted towards presenting Triverse as an anthology collection of short stories within the same setting, which is how it was always envisioned. There’s the ongoing larger storyline, of course, but each of the individual cases can be approached in a relatively standalone manner, I think. Reminds me of when I’d stumble upon a random episode of a TV show back in the 90s, and then get hooked and have to hunt down reruns of earlier episodes.
That doesn’t happen so much now, with streaming. It’s a lot more all-or-nothing. I slightly miss the days of saving up and hunting around for DVDs of Farscape in HMV. That’s when film and TV had a sense of curated value.
While I’ve got you, have you grabbed a copy of my book No Adults Allowed yet? It’s available as an ebook and a paperback and can be found on Amazon here.
Anyway. Let’s get into this:
I’ve had the idea for this storyline in my head pretty much from the start of writing Triverse. Or, at least, from the moment I decided that portal tears were a thing - which I guess was around December 2021:
Remember that story? It was a while back!
A Shawshank Redemption-inspired tale just had to be done, complete with cover-up poster. So here we are! Now that you know what’s actually going on (well, partially), next week we can really have some fun once the Bruglia and London forces decide on a plan.
Returning to that point of the first mention of portal tears being over a year ago. This is part of the magic of serial storytelling, at least for me as a writer. The idea that some readers have been here from the start is thrilling. Triverse isn’t a book that can be picked up and read in a few days or weeks. It’s a commitment! For people who do commit, it’s an intense thing. One of my earlier books, The Mechanical Crown, was a three year epic. People interact with stories slightly differently when it’s a scarce, paced-out thing, rather than something to binge instantly. That long-term relationship forges a different type of bond with the characters and story, I think.
It’s not all positives, of course. There are some people who just don’t want to read that way. They want the finished article. Or maybe they don’t want to risk the author abandoning the project and never finishing the story (this has never happened to me, fortunately - and, I mean, it’s not like this doesn’t happen in traditional publishing as well…). Perhaps they just don’t like the form factor of reading on Substack or Wattpad. That’s all fine - and why I’ll be doing ebook and paperback collections of Triverse later this year.
My ideal situation, I think, is to be reaching readers in all sorts of ways and venues. Some here on a weekly cadence. Others via more traditional one-off products. Audio, too, one day, would be good.
Too much to do, not enough time. Better get cracking.