AN ITALIAN JOB
a standalone novella by Zoë Sharp and John Lawton
'Love is deadlier the second time around.'
Ginger and Jack are both former soldiers from the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Time, chance and bloodshed force them apart. Twenty years later chance brings them back together—older, possibly wiser certainly richer. Jack has never married… Ginger has… And the one obstacle in their way is her ex-husband Franco.
The intriguing combination of historical espionage thriller author John Lawton, and action thriller author Zoë Sharp have produced a gripping crime novella about loyalty, betrayal, love and revenge, with action stretching from the Balkan Wars to modern-day Tuscany, from the glaciers of Iceland to the deceptively calm waters of the Mediterranean.
‘No relation to any persons living or dead’ is what it says on the copyright page of all works of fiction. And this book is no different to the rest. But the motivation behind the story is real, I’ll freely admit that.
I came up with the bones of it driving back from the last court appearance of my divorce settlement. Let’s just say things hadn’t gone well. I knew I needed to write it out of my system. But as a writer—and before that as a photojournalist—I’ve always concentrated on telling other people’s stories, not my own.
And so it is with An Italian Job.
My ex is not Franco Gianelli, and I am not Gina. All I did was take the nugget of a familiar situation and play the ‘What if…?’ game.
But unlike previous ideas, this time around I kicked it back and forth with fellow author John Lawton. In the end, it became a game of consequences, with one of us writing a section and then batting it back to the other.
It took the story in a direction that wasn’t necessarily planned at the outset, and the characters developed in unexpected ways, too. But was my first collaboration fun? Yes, it was a blast, and I’d do it all again tomorrow.
You came up with it? I could have sworn I did, but thinking about it…it is a bit unlikely that I’d come up with a plot about a divorce settlement. But...it was me who thought up the game of consequences, wasn’t it? Surely? No matter. I read it now and I can spot things I wrote and things you wrote but most of the time I cannot tell who wrote what. And that’s good (isn’t it?)
You’re not Gina, and I’m certainly not Franco or Jack. Could I possibly be Gina? I shall ponder that one and the implicit identity crisis. That said, yep t’was a blast and I’d do it all again tomorrow... Well, perhaps the day after tomorrow.
The cold was dazzling, the ice layer on top of the snow glittering as they sped past. As the snowmobiles drew up alongside Bjarni’s machine their guide pointed north towards the Pole. The buzz-saw of a dozen engines cut away into silence and headlights snapped off. Above them the night sky hosted a swirling mass of delicate pale greens edged with pinks and yellows that danced and undulated like a field of rainbow wheat in a breeze.
“Here in Iceland we call them norðurlósin, but you know them as the aurora borealis, the Northern Lights. Aurora was the Roman goddess of dawn, and Boreas is Greek for the north wind. It was Galileo himself who first used that name in the early sixteen-hundreds.”
Jack heard cheers and excited babbling in Japanese, flurries of movement. Then the pointless flashes from half a dozen camera phones. He frowned, stepping away from the line of snowmobiles, their motors ticking as they cooled, and further out into the dark. He’d done some travelling in his life, seen some of the remarkable faces the planet could show. They were as close as he came to God. He wanted silence and solitude, not a bloody mardi gras.
When he heard footsteps move beside him his first instinctive reaction was irritation. He kept his gaze resolutely upward, hoping the newcomer would take the hint and leave him alone.
Behind them, the tourists’ voices grew louder. Bjarni told them that Icelandic folklore claimed the lights would ease the pain of childbirth. “But if you see them right before you give birth, then the baby will be born kross-eyed, OK?”
There were squeals of laughter, more excited chattering. Jack could not suppress a sigh.
He felt rather than saw his companion shift a little and lean in towards him. “Perhaps we could encourage them to sing, whistle or wave,” she murmured, her voice throaty with amusement. “According to folklore, that will encourage the spirits to swoop down and carry them away.”
“Oh, don’t get my hopes up.” Jack had already spoken before the voice reached through the layers of time and place and punched him square in the centre of his chest. He turned, fumbling for the flashlight in his pocket. “I—”
She beat him to it, flicking on her own light with the beam pointing up to illuminate her face. It was the redheaded woman from the airport. More than that, it was the woman he’d thought she might be.
“Good evening, Flight Lieutenant,” she said. “It’s been a long time.”