This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual locales, events, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Or it's not, and this is completely true.
Kiss, To Die Upon A.
Alex / by To Die Upon a Kiss
Chapter One- Carnal Noises & Funeral Voices
(When the doorbell rings at three o'clock in the morning, it's never good news.)
Alex Rider was not woken by the first chime. He had, in fact, been awake for hours, listening to his uncle's housekeeper shagging the plumber in the next room. It wasn't so much listening, mind you, as unintentionally overhearing, for the complex's sheetrock walls had been built with no regard for aural abstinence.
Nor had the supposedly tamper proof windows been created to withstand a young boy with escape on his mind and a miniature screwdriver tucked behind his wallpaper.
Escape, as it often was, was on his mind tonight, and he leaned out the window handily placed beside his single bed, and stared out at the lights of the city. Despite it being only April and rainy as hell, hot undertones in the wind promised what was sure to be a scorching spring. As he breathed in a lungful of smoggy city air, he glanced at the glittering buildings, iniquitous palaces of light outlined against the charcoal sky, and longed to be high.
Through this orifice, he could see in the distance the lights of South Kensington, Belgravia; if he looked farther he imagined that he could see the Gardens, and perhaps even as far as Mayfair.
He thought of dancing, of drinking, and larking about London in the wee hours of the night, laughing until he could breathe no more. He also thought that even a spot of ear-bashing drum n' bass, which he despised, would be infinitely preferable to the sounds emanating from next door.
Jack's beau continued his pounding and Alex began beating his head rhythmically against the glass. He glanced at the digital alarm clock on the bedside table; 2:30, it read, and that meant that in thirty minutes he was going to lose his social status.
Alex sighed heavily. He was supposed to have met Tom and James at midnight to charter transportation for the gigantic do that Colin had planned for this morning.
Colin Mitchell topped Brookland's social ladder by dint of wealth, good humor, and possession of psychotropics, but mostly because he graciously shared the latter at the gigantic parties that he had practically every month. He was very generous with his invitations inside the barrier of his own year, extending them to practically everyone his age, but less so with those in other forms.
It was a rare occasion that he took interest in a younger student, but after the school football team's success in the Vaughan/ Brookland game earlier this month, for which Alex had chiefly been responsible, he had come up to the three sweating strikers and extended his congratulations to the center forward. That day he had invited the third former and his two striker friends to sit at his table during lunch and since then had taken all three of them under his wing, sharing with them his gossip and (so far unsuccessfully) his fags. Then, on Thursday, he had announced plans for a "blowout at his" in the wee hours of Saturday morning. It was one of those "be there or be square" affairs, the kind of event at which couples were made and broken; it would no doubt be discussed ten years later at their college reunion.
Not that this wasn't absolutely normal, even expected of a Mitchell; his soirees were legendary for their extreme rowdiness, which was overshadowed in turn by the amount of debauched behavior that occurred among his guests. Many an inebriated minor had had to be rescued from stumbling into the four-way traffic on Tregunter Road and Boltons Place. Perhaps the most impressive part of it was that, although their arrest records were as long as the Mitchells' bills at the end of the night, none of Colin's attendees were ever convicted of anything.
This party was forecast to be one for the books, though: when the usual shipment of port and poppers had come in from Colin's brother, it had included the notable additions of several dozen bags of a new drug which touted itself as "herbal incense." With the novelty of a new spliff to bolster the excitement, Colin could hardly help inviting everyone who asked, and with the guest list swollen to almost a hundred, missing this fete promised to be –boom boom – a fate worse than death.
And here he was, the one who Colin had invited first, trapped in bed because he was afraid that his housekeeper would come find him before she fell asleep. It rankled to imagine that right now, short, scrawny Tom and gangly-framed James were probably having a ball while he, Alex, was the one at home in bed, being made by proxy to join in with his housekeeper's shagging.
At that moment, the doorbell rang. He heard, vaguely, the smash of china and a suppressed swearword; he listened to Jack's tear around her bedroom, her whispered entreaties for her lover to stay upstairs, and the dull thuds of one set of retreating footsteps.
He stared, wishing, at the twinkling lights while the noises of a door opening and the entrance of people wafted up from downstairs, and, even without overhearing the words themselves, he knew from their grim intonation what they meant. It had been bound to happen sometime.
"Damn," Alex muttered.
He closed his eyes and let the blank feeling wash over him.
It was only hours later, sitting in the studio, watching as the grey light of morning bled through the West London streets, that Alex tried to make sense of what had happened. His uncle, Ian Rider, was dead, and not by the hand of an assassin. The truth was infinitely more banal and made it that much more painful.
Driving home, Ian Rider's car had been involved in a traffic accident with a shipping lorry on an Old Street roundabout. He had probably died almost instantly, they said, of massive head trauma, vessels being burst in the brain, but the chain of events was not completely known; they hadn't been able to extricate his body from the wreckage without damaging it further. The forensic analyst's assistant would ring them up when there was more news.
Alex thought of the man who had been his only living relation for as long as he could remember. He had never known his biological parents: they had both died in a plane crash about three months after he was born. He had been raised by his father's brother – never "uncle," Ian Rider hated that word – and had lived most of fourteen years in the terraced house in Chelsea, London, between the King's Road and Fulham. The two of them had been close.
He sighed, remembering the expeditions they'd made together over the holidays, the many sports they'd played, and the films they'd watched. They hadn't been just relatives; Ian Rider had been his friend and his partner in crime. He felt his stomach twist, realizing that he would never again see the man's fist connecting with his face, hear his derisive laughter, or twist his arm up in a half nelson to get his help with his science homework. Truthfully, he would even miss his incessant schooling in the arts of violence.
"You there, Alex?" The housekeeper had come into the room. She was in her late twenties with a sprawl of bright orange hair and a round, boyish face. Jack Starbright was American. She had come to London as a student and had rented a room in return for babysitting and light housework, and either because of bravery or quantifiable insanity, she had stayed on to become the permanent housekeeper, even after nearly being killed after their home was invaded in 2000. She was one of his greatest friends and the only one willing to spaghetti fight with him. In lingering respect for that fight, he did not hiss and snarl at her for barging into his contemplation cave.
"Sorry for barging into your contemplation cave," she said apologetically. "I just wanted to know if you were okay."
He nodded, then asked the question that had been burning in his mind since 3:05.
"What do you think will happen?" she asked.
"To the house. To me. To you."
"I don't know. Ian would have made a will. He'll 've left instructions."
Alex heard a careful note in her voice, as if she wasn't sure how much she should say.
"Maybe we should look in his office," he said with the utmost attention to her countenance as he did so.
If he had been expecting an interesting reaction, he was disappointed. Jack merely nodded.
"Yeah. But not today, Alex. It all feels too fresh, you know?"
At the end of that subtext-laden sentence, the sound of a doorbell could be heard and she spun on her heel, jogging towards the open garden door.
Alex watched her go, crestfallen. He'd wanted a chance to go into the office.
Ian's office, or the "study," as he called it, as if that wasn't totally ominous, was a large room in the house, running almost half its length, which was parallel to Ian's door. It was the only room that was always locked; Ian had allowed him in only three or four times before, and never on his own.
When he was younger, he used to imagine that it contained something fantastical, like a UFO or a police-booth time machine from that odd Doctor Who. In truth, it contained a desk, a shelf with books and paper, and a few locked filing cabinets. Bank stuff: that was what Ian had said. Still, Alex had always wondered: what bank stuff was so important that it had to have practically military-level security?
The room was a virtual bunker, almost completely sealed off from the outside world. It had no windows. The only door was built like a bank vault's, with a twelve-digit combination. It would have been practically criminal of Alex not to have been interested. The office became the obsession of his young life; one of the enigmas in a very puzzling childhood. Somehow, Alex had thought that it was in some way connected to the obscene level of fitness that Ian required of him, the fact that he was training when other children were playing, and the fact that he hadn't had even the semblance of a normal childhood.
Alex had, of course done the natural thing. He had watched, and he had waited, and when the time came (though it was perhaps not under the best of circumstances, and he was ashamed of it later) he used his advantages, and by 2000, he knew.
Ian Rider was no banker; he was a spy for the British government, and he had been training Alex, it seemed, to follow in his footsteps. He didn't know what his purpose was going to be, but if he'd learned anything at all from reading a history of the SIS's Middle East controllerate, he was sure they would be resourceful, especially their leader, who Ian referred to as "the grey man." If he was going to be honest with himself, he was absolutely sure that they would find a way to use him.
Alex spent the rest of the day alternating between mulling over his boredom and failing to stave it off with pointless activities. He knew that he would have much preferred to go out and meet his friends, what he usually did on a homework-free Sunday morning, but there really wasn't anything for it but to stay: unless he wanted the guests that arrived to think that he was an unfeeling sociopath. By the time they all had arrived, he wished he had the excuse of being smashed.
There were five unwanted, unwelcome guests: There was the vicar of the Chelsea Old Church, who was tall and sanctimonious and seemed convinced that Alex needed to heal his grief through tears. In his holy generosity he had volunteered to do the benediction for the funeral.
There was the neighbor in the house opposite theirs, Mrs. Robinson, who invited herself in at eight, having somehow heard that a death had transpired. She was a natural busybody, and, even worse, had the means to appease this irritating flaw in her personality; she was sister to one of the Elm Park caretakers and could prowl the community to her heart's desire without being arrested. Consternation was apparent on every face when she entered the house.
There were also two faceless and rather dull corporate underlings; an attorney who read out Ian's will and a funeral director whom he had recommended, the latter of which set the date for two o'clock the next day. Alex wondered offhandedly how they would pull it off. Maybe the funeral arrangements would feature flowers recycled from the service before.
Finally, there was the man from the bank.
He knocked on the door at precisely ten o'clock and introduced himself as Crawley, from Personnel. While he gave the usual speech about duty to the relatives of loyal employees and the depth of the condolences that he extended, Alex let it fade to a buzz in his ears and marveled at how truly creepy the man was.
He had the sort of face that one forgot, even while one was looking at it: Alex found that if he looked at one facial feature and then another, he had to make an effort to remember the shape of the first. It was frankly frightening and intriguing all at once, and he amused himself for a good minute with trying to remember the man's features in detail. When the man reached a long-awaited pause, Alex cut in with his burning question: What would happen to him, to the house, and to Jack?
Mr. Crawley smiled and told him not to worry about the slightest thing. Alex would have been more reassured if the man had shrugged and told him outright that he didn't know.
The afternoon was even more uneventful than the morning. Alex killed a few hours knocking about the balls on his uncle's snooker table, and then felt vaguely guilty when Jack caught him at it.
Sometime around five o'clock, they received a call from the police station; the forensic analyst had new information on how Ian had died. It had something to do with a broken cable tie on a shipment of computers and a badly locked set of doors. The gist of it was that the lorry's cargo had spilled onto the road and Ian Rider had swerved to avoid the boxes, crashing into a guardrail. His face, Jack added, had gone through the window; if his seatbelt had been fastened, he would have had a chance.
What was stranger than the circumstances of his death was Jack's disproportionate reaction. After she delivered the news, she lapsed into a strange sort of apathy that was frightening in its abruptness. It was if the news was so bleak that she could only cope with it long enough to tell it to him. He'd gone downstairs once to ask her what she wanted to eat, but she was gazing blankly at a patch of sunlight on the upper part of the wall and he was too polite to snap his fingers in her face.
She surfaced from her coma at about five thirty to make him dinner, but remained oddly distant for the rest of the day, giving facile answers to open-ended questions and responding with a terse "no" or "yes" to those that were not. She only came alive once, when he suggested riffling through Ian's papers to see if he'd left a will. Her reaction was an emphatic "no", quite disproportional to the question, and Alex found himself narrowing his eyes in suspicion.
"Damn," he muttered under his breath, realizing what was bothering him; realizing what this reminded him of.
Jack was going mad again.
At nine o'clock the next morning, Alex awoke, feeling remarkably awful considering that he hadn't been up all the day and night before, chowing down E's. He'd tried calling Tom's house phone the night before, but received only a steady stream of (murmured) swearwords; he'd hung up and decided to let him sleep it off. Rings to James and Nick only produced similar results, and Artie's parents wouldn't let him talk as he was revising for an exam, thanks, and the connection was broken with a flouncy "Good-bye!" from Mrs. Gerthrude.
Despite being kicked off of the line thrice, Alex managed to glean some important information about the events of the party. According to Simon, who appeared to be the most lucid of the bunch, it had lasted considerably longer than planned. Instead of ending at three, it had continued to almost five o'clock for most of the attendees, and one group of stragglers had remained until ten at night, dabbing up the dregs of the spliff and playing drinking games. It, as he'd predicted, would be a story for the ages.
There had been no fewer than three arrests, two of which had already been retracted, with apologies to the families. Two couples had been broken and refitted, and apparently – Simon had giggled (giggled!) – the cashmere carpets in the first floor reception room would need to be steam-cleaned, as well as those in the ground floor lounges and the third floor bedroom. Alex did not want to know what had happened to create such a stain.
He had hung up the telephone with a sinking feeling of I told you so! and had lain awake until twelve that night, tormented by the thought of the abuse he was going to get at school. Now he pulled himself out of bed and walked to the bathroom. He looked like he felt, which was hell, as well as a concise description of his day until two o'clock. He spent the morning watching a talk show host whose show timeslot would have been better used in broadcasting a welcome screen.
After sixty minutes of Jerry Springer , he decided he'd had enough and went upstairs to lie apathetically on his bed, which was where he was when Jack appeared in his room, dressed more nicely than he had ever seen her. It was time to go.
He found himself in a dark coat and cords, climbing into a dark car that had come from nowhere surrounded by people he had never met. Ian Rider was buried in Brompton Cemetery on the Fulham Road, which was a feat in itself, seeing as the service took place with almost no notice, it was Sunday, and it was still football season. FA finals were coming up and Alex knew what he'd rather be watching than a funeral on that warm, lazy afternoon.
There were about thirty people there, most of them complete strangers to Jack and Alex. Out of all of them, he recognized two; Crawley and Mrs. Robinson, who kept waving at him while he stared steadily to her left, pretending not to notice.
A grave had been dug close to the lane that ran the length of the cemetery, and they gathered round as the vicar began the pontifications. As Alex tuned him out, he stared at the turned earth, neatly piled; at the lush arrangements of flowers set at intervals on the two richly laden tables. It was amazing what they'd done with the time they'd had. He had to admit that Mr. Marshall (was that his name?) had panache, although of course he, unlike most funeral directors, had the clout of a governmental intelligence organization behind his operation.
He also wondered who, exactly had funded this; he found it hard to believe that the SIS had a special division of covertly trained funeral directors with…section leaders and handlers. No, he expected that the one who signed the checks for funerals was simply a higher-up; maybe the director's secretary or someone else just below the top. He wondered if his uncle's boss would make an appearance at his agent's funeral; it only seemed right, since he had been the one to send Ian Rider to his death.
Just then, a black Rolls-Royce peeled into the cemetery, stopping with a faint, ordinary squeal of tires that somehow managed to be deafeningly oppressive at the same time, just like the man who opened the door and stepped out. The whole congregation watched him as he walked forward, then stopped.
There was absolutely nothing abnormal about the man, but something about him made Alex's skin crawl. Maybe it was the lack of expression on the face, the dead eyes behind the square glasses, or the color; grey, grey, grey.
He jumped very slightly and had to suppress a shiver; the man was looking straight at him. He felt Jack's hand clench on his shoulder; he looked up, but she hadn't noticed the man at all and was staring in completely the opposite direction, where one in khaki pants had emerged through a gap in the crowd. Alex looked at the man, too, and suddenly remembered that he hadn't seen or heard any sign of Jack's paramour leaving the house. Very slowly, he looked from Khakis to the bland man.
There was a tap on his shoulder; Alex jumped because when he'd last looked, Crawley had been on the other side of the grave. "That's Mr. Blunt. He's the chairman of the bank," he whispered, and Alex was shocked to hear a strain of reverent admiration in his voice. His eyes traveled past Blunt and towards the Rolls-Royce. Two more men had come with him, one of them driving. They were wearing identical suits and sunglasses, and looked either grim or constipated as they watched the proceedings.
"…A good man, a patriotic man. He will be missed." Reverend Elvy had finished his graveside address. Alex's eyebrows rose so far upwards that they vanished underneath his fringe. "Patriotic" was not the best word to describe Ian Rider. "Dutiful," maybe, or "Loyal." He looked at the Reverend with new eyes. Could it be that the vicar had been told to say something? He didn't go so far as to think that the man was in on something: the idea of the ruddy, plump man having a second life in espionage seemed a little too much.
He looked around for Jack and saw that he had somehow missed her in the crowd; she had vanished after letting go of his shoulder and had left no trace behind her. Instead, he saw Mr. Blunt making his way towards him, stepping methodically around the grave.
"You must be Alex," he said. He was barely taller than Alex, and up close his skin looked strangely unreal, as if it was made of plastic. "Your uncle often spoke about you." His voice was like grease – grey grease – and Alex felt his stomach twist. He tried to cover it up with bravado.
"Really?" he said, with just the slightest hint of combativeness. "Funny, he never mentioned you."
The grey lips twitched briefly. "We'll miss him. He was a good man."
"What was he good at?" Alex was just screwing with him now, trying to push the man into revealing something. He faked a look of wide-eyed innocence. "He never talked about his job."
Suddenly and scarily, Crawley appeared where there had been thin air a moment before, as if he was born for the express purpose of showing off his ninja skills.
"Your uncle was the overseas finance manager. He was responsible for our foreign branches. You might have known that," he said, with just enough emphasis to add a barb to the last sentence. Alex responded in equal measure.
"I know he traveled a lot," Alex said. It was just a game now, one that neither would admit to playing. "And I know that he was very careful about things like seat belts."
"Well, he wasn't careful enough," Blunt chipped in with an imperiousness that was final. His eyes, magnified by the glasses, lasered into Alex's own, and for a moment Alex felt like he was under a microscope or an X-ray; as if he was Harry Potter, trapped by the stare of some horribly perverted Dumbledore.
"I hope we will meet again," said Blunt. He tapped the side of his face with one grey finger. "Yes…" he turned and went back to the car, and that was when the thing happened that solidified all of Alex's suspicions.
As Blunt was getting into the car, the driver leaned down to open the door and his jacket fell open, revealing a dark shape that stood out in stark contrast with the white shirt underneath. The man was wearing a leather holster with an automatic pistol tucked inside. Alex's eyes widened; the man quickly pulled his jacket closed, realizing what had happened. Blunt looked at Alex, and it was this point that he realized that it probably would have been better for him to look away. The man narrowed his eyes. Something close to an emotion slithered across his face. Then the Rolls-Royce turned and sped out of the cemetery as fast as it had come.
"Creepy," said Alex.
He found Jack in the crowd around the food table, where she was sitting as if she'd never left. When he asked her about the man in the khakis she became vague and hard of hearing, so he gave up. She was probably embarrassed. They left the cemetery and walked home, forgoing the car because of the feeling of creepiness that it gave both of them. The walk took about fifteen minutes. As they approached the gates of their closed community, Alex noticed a moving van with the words "Stryker & Son" painted on the side.
"What's that doing-" he started, but then the driver's keycard appeared to be accepted, the gates opened, and the van shot in their direction so quickly that they had to leap out of the way. Alex picked himself up off the street, panting out of adrenaline, not exertion, and filled with suspicion from top to toe.
Nothing was said as Jack unlocked the door and let them in, but when they went upstairs, he silently pointed out little details that were different from how they'd been left. A tight feeling appeared in his throat and grew as they walked further up the stairs, while the blood slowly drained from Jack's face.
It wasn't until he reached the top floor that he became sure. The door to Ian's office was unlocked, standing open. He pushed it open to an empty room; the computer, the shelves, the file cabinets were gone. Anything to do with the man's work had been taken. Whatever the whole truth about his uncle's past was, someone had just wiped it out, and he had a very good idea who.
A/N: Habt ihr die erste Kapitel gemochtet? Was denkt ihr über dem Witz mit Harry Potter und Böse-Dumbledore? Ob Alan Blunt Dumbledore ist, dann Bellatrix ist von Crawley representiert! Macht doch kein Panic über die nächsten Kapiteln, sie würden nicht so lang und langweilig. Diese Kapitel ist nur ein Introduktion für dem Aktion und den anderen Geschehniße. Und ob ihr wollt, review my work please or I will never stop speaking German.
Notes in English on the subtext:
Shout-out number one goes to Those Girls by Sarah Lawrence, this horribly profane and shallow book that is impossible to stop reading if you have two X-chromosomes.
Number two belongs to Where the Heart Is, a currently (as of 11th May, 2012) abandoned fanfiction by Amari Bell which really should have been continued.
Shout out number three goes to Farrar Realty for providing house/apartment listings in Chelsea. Alex actually has an address in my story.
The fourth shout-out, and it's only a tiny one, references Harry Potter.
The fifth is Doctor Who. Keep in mind that this chapter was set before the 2006 revamp, so it was still just this older show that was blindingly good.
Also: this chapter has almost the same number of pages as Stormbreaker's first chapter, which is heavily referenced in this series, obviously. If you have any corrections or suggestions to make, Private Message me.
There is currently a poll up on my profile. It concerns the speed of updates. Please go there now and vote. The poll may or may not influence my decision to update sooner than planned. Remember that more time to write means more quality, as I research everything I do and nothing concerns me more than believability and accuracy.
Final note: I've decided to remove the summary that appeared formerly at the beginning of every chapter, for the reasons that Fanfiction's new and much improved interface includes the summary at the top of each chapter. The original first page will be kept for the first chapter because of sentimental reasons.
Chapter One of Alex was finished on May 17, 2012, not including the minor edits that were made afterwards, the most recent being June 23 of the same year.