Situation No Win

About the story:
Tom and Liu thought they’d made the discovery of a lifetime when the ancient relic they’re studying reveals amazing properties. Now, Liu’s dead and Tom’s on the run with few he can trust. Running into naive school teacher, Melissa, again could be Tom’s salvation, or his ruin if he can’t stop falling in love with her.
From the deserts of Shaanxi Province, China to the coast of South Africa, Tom and Melissa have to navigate history, dodge the unscrupulous and psychotic, and stay alive to rewrite their own stories. But with double-crosses and fiendish plans the order of the day, who will end up with naught.

“…I could not put it down until I finished reading it! In other words…it is a page-turner.”

Vida Li Sik


It’s finally done, the revision of Situation No Win! It’s taken a bunch of years, but it’s done!

What’s different from the original? Well, the story begins at another point, there’s no first person view from Melissa, and there’s more of one guy I felt really bad about in the first story—Liu! Yes, he gets more time, and hopefully he may pop up here and there, too.

Read the preview below or follow the link at the end to read the whole of Chapter One for free on my Patreon. Enjoy 😀

First edition cover 2013

Chapter One

Monkey King Vs Highlander

The Mu Desert, China, 2010

Tom avoided Liu’s striking arm, leaned back against the makeshift lab counter and rolled out of range of his friend’s enthusiasm.

“You die now, you filthy Scottish scum!” yelled Liu, really getting into the spirit of their mock fight, his cross-eyed squint lending him a comedic menace.

Tom suppressed a giggle. So, he hadn’t showered in two days, well neither had Liu. Still, he couldn’t let that insult pass. It was time to introduce something new to this fight.

He ducked under a free-standing table and grabbed his retractable practice sword lying next to bubble-wrapped ancient swords: recently unearthed; recently catalogued; and awaiting careful shipment to Xi’an.

Holding his sword with both hands and striking the immortal pose, Tom yelled back with a hundred percent Scottish burr, “There can be only one!” He stared with lower eyebrows at his best friend’s maniacal grin. He knew what Liu was thinking; they’d argued about it for hours on end only just last week: Monkey King Vs Highlander, who’d win?

Liu put the relic he held into his jacket pocket, and dropped into a fighting stance. The puzzling cylinder, dug up less than a week ago still awaited full analysis of its strange chemical composition and enigmatic writing. Bulging at his side, it would have been safer with the bubble-wrapped swords but Liu refused to be parted from the artefact until he personally delivered it to Xi’an.

Tom grinned. He had the greater reach with his sword and longer arms, though they’d both need to be extra careful not to inadvertently damage the relic. Dr Zhou, Liu’s uncle and the Excavation Director, would be heart-broken; it would be unprofessional; and quite possibly the end Liu’s career and of Tom’s stay in China…or worse.

If thoughts of similar disgrace were going through Liu’s mind he didn’t show it as he went through a precise martial arts movement while making Bruce Lee sounds.

Tom dampened his grin, admiring his friend’s practised flowing Tai Chi movements, and moved into open space in the roomy tent. Liu moved parallel to him, a whirl of movement.

Tom spun around, feeling he was definitely losing the mock battle in some way, and brought the sword overhead, posing dramatically, his face a mock snarl.

Liu was momentarily surprised, then concentrated even more, anticipating his friend’s charge.

Tom tensed, muscles set to launch towards Liu, brows furrowed for half a second. The air was electric, like a storm approaching, and was Liu’s favourite relic starting to glow even through the material of his clothes?

Tom would have hesitated but was already committed to the charge. He swept forward, swinging his sword in an arc.

Liu slid down in a snake-like motion and brought his hand forward, brushing the relic at his side.

The air sparkled with electric dust, and a shocked Tom flew backwards, landing with a crash amongst packaging boxes and markers.

Liu’s horrified brown eyes met Tom’s appalled grey ones. With trembling hands, Liu withdrew the relic from his pocket. It was glowing! What else could it do? Both friends gazed at the octagonal coppery cylinder. The odd, unreadable inscriptions running its length offered no answers.

* * *

Tom hurried along the Shenmu street beside the river. Erlangshan Temple rose like a castle on the ridge above him. Across the valley in which the little city sat sprawled the Nine Dragon Temple rock-faces and pagoda with the glittering golden Immortal overseeing all. A slight breeze made the humidity and strong sun just bearable, reminding Tom why the Mu Desert was one of his favourite places. He breathed in the clean air so unlike most larger cities and smiled at familiar faces as he’d smiled at his friend, Yan, at the temple.

The monk, knowledgeable than most about the region’s history and oddities, hadn’t heard of a relic with the powers Liu’s strange cylinder held but it was early days in their research and the artefact would soon be in Xi’an. Besides, Tom had enjoyed the conversation with the amusing wise man, who promised to mention the relic to the abbot of HuiShan Monastery where many ancient manuscripts were in the process of being transcribed. Nevertheless, Tom was nervous talking about the relic to anyone, even Yan whom he trusted. He’d convinced Liu and Dr Zhou to remove the photo of the artefact from the camp’s website and to keep news of it as low-key as possible until the relic was studied at the main lab in Xi’an. Gibson was already asking questions about the incident with Liu and the relic, and knowing his director as he did, that made Tom very nervous indeed. Exciting though the discovery was, Tom wished they hadn’t found the intriguing artefact. He already missed the worry-free days when all they’d found were stone inscriptions and graffiti, remnants of old villages, and farm and construction technology.

Weaving past shoppers and groups of schoolkids making their way back to classes from lunch, Tom dove into the refreshing air-conditioning of the local KFC. Jimmy, one of the team from the dig, grinned and waved from a table by the window while talking into his phone. Mobile reception wasn’t the best back at camp. Tom waved back then turned his attention to the server, glad the lunch-time rush was over. He hated waiting in line. The KFC was almost empty. Besides Jimmy, there were only two other patrons—a guy with mirrored wraparound glasses and an iPhone who got the once-over in return, and a student playing a game on their little phone. Tom gave the menu a cursory glance, checking the seasonal fish and chicken combos were still available. Less than five minutes later, Tom, his body relaxing as he descended, took his tray downstairs to the dim, cool basement seating where Liu would be found,.

For a change, Liu wasn’t alone. He was laughing, sitting across from a familiar-looking girl. Tom walked over, anxiety creeping over him. Should he know this girl with the unfashionable poor-boy hat? Surely he hadn’t gone out with her in his early days in Shenmu. She wasn’t his type, not in those faded loose jeans and shapeless shirt. Up close, she appeared older than he’d first thought, around his age—late thirties for sure.

“Ah, here he is!” said Liu in English, his eyes twinkling with mischief. “Our famous Tom MacKenzie, all the way from Scotland.”

Tom slid his tray alongside Liu’s, reluctant to initiate any contact with the woman. Let her think he was disinterested. It would be the truth.

She half-rose, awkward in the small space of the booth and held out a hand. “Hi! I’m Melissa. Liu’s been telling me all about you.”

Startled by her accent, Tom met her hazel eyes, and wished he hadn’t. He looked away immediately, taking his seat and rumbled a greeting. She wasn’t Chinese though she might have been Asian; her accent English, Canadian or Australian. And if she was in Shenmu, that could only mean she was an English teacher at one of the schools. She looked the type and Shenmu didn’t attract many tourists—not yet. Tom continued analysing her, speculating so he wouldn’t have to think about that shock of electricity he’d experienced when their eyes met. He stole a glance as she settled into her seat again. She appeared flustered. Had she felt it too?

The strained silence was broken by a frowning Liu. “So, I was just telling Melissa about our remarkable find.”

End of except. Read the whole of Chapter One on my Patreon.

No Win

July or August 2020

Apple Books
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and other regional
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Find it on SCRIBD or ask your librarian to help you loan it on OVERDRIVE.

Look for this cover.

Curious about some of the settings in Situation Now Win?

Check out these posts:
Yulin and more coming in the future

Read about the evolution and design of the book cover here.

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