Our latest Bloc Features is an excerpt from No Free Man by Graham Potts, shared with us by the wonderful Pantera Press.
No Free Man
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or
stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or
exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way,
nor will we proceed with force against him, or send
others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of
his equals or by the law of the land.
Clause 39, Magna Carta
220 KILOMETRES NORTH OF SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
MONDAY 12 SEPTEMBER
6:00 PM AUSTRALIAN EASTERN STANDARD TIME (AEST)
A middle-aged couple sat at a table for two, barely speaking. The man
slouched forward on his crossed arms and stared into his drink. The
woman, hands in her lap, gazed through the window while fiddling
with her wedding band.
Three women gossiped loudly in the middle of the pub. Their
lined faces were spattered with make-up and their clothes were
stretched taut across their sagging skin. Cackling and snorting,
their wild gestures threatened to knock over two empty wine
There was a business meeting towards the rear. Five men in
threadbare suits and gaudy ties howled at their own jokes and scored
the waitresses out of ten. There were shaky hands, stained teeth,
and greasy comb-overs lacquered with gel. The centre of mass was a
stern man who had been ladled into his suit, a jumble of veins on his
Two newlyweds sat beside a window, huddled over uneaten
meals. The woman talked and her tattooed husband stroked her hand
tenderly. He was left-handed, muscular, his knuckles scarred and his
skin tanned. His right leg shook as he tapped the heel of his work boot
on the floor over and over again.
He was a potential but unlikely threat.
A young couple sat at the table beside them. The girl wore cheap
clothes and expensive jewellery. Her companion was effeminate, his
hair styled and his hands manicured. She smiled at him awkwardly,
chewing her nails as he stared at her breasts.
There was a birthday party in the corner. The guests chirped to
each other and cooed at the birthday girl perched at the head of the
table while taking photographs with their phones. Tokens of affection
were placed before her and impatiently shredded in a shower of ribbon
and wrapping paper. It was tedious to witness but it was innocent.
None of them deserved to die.
A shadow crossed his table. “Would you like another drink, sir?”
the waitress asked.
The ice cubes clinked in his empty glass as he looked at his watch.
“No, thank you. Just the bill.”
“Of course, but you’ll have to pay at the bar.” She cleared the table
and sashayed away, promptly returning with a frayed leather wallet. He
deposited some cash inside and placed it on the table.
Stepan Volkov glanced around the room again but he knew it was
clean. Andrei hadn’t arrived yet. Volkov could wait outside and finish
the job away from the public, though it meant his preparations were
He palmed the leather wallet and stood, shrugging his coat on to
his shoulders as he walked to the bar. He hesitated, spotting a bright red
coat out of the corner of his eye, and then he saw who was wearing it.
The woman advanced, her hand raised like a pistol.
“You’d better be here to apologise,” she said, stabbing him with
her finger. She still looked like a porcelain figurine, he thought, as he
paid the barman.
“Have we met?” he asked. The barman returned Volkov’s change
“Don’t be cute,” she scowled. A birthday cake emerged from
the kitchen and the room paused to gawk. Everyone burst into song,
including the staff behind the bar.
“Why would I apologise, anyway?” He leaned closer. “You left
She placed a hand on his chest. “Did you take a blow to the head?”
“More like a knife in the back.”
“Will you give it a rest?”
“Relax, Slim,” he said, brushing her hand away. “I had no idea
you were here.”
“Don’t call me that, and you’re lying.”
“I could always tell when you were lying.”
“So you thought.” Volkov peeped over her shoulder, and saw
Andrei push through the door and study the room. His timing was
good: everyone was distracted. Volkov rubbed his eyes. “Listen, I’d
like to stand here and argue with you but I’ve got better things to do.”
She took half a step back, her eyebrows arched. The birthday song
was nearly finished.
“Going home?” she said. “I can drive you to jail.”
“Twin share or couple’s rates?”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
“You’re the one who called me cute.”
She scoffed, her cheeks glowing red.
Volkov made to move away—Andrei had started to cross the
room, reaching into his jacket—but the woman grabbed his wrist.
“If you think—” Volkov ignored her and watched Andrei draw a
pistol from his coat, “—I’m letting you out of this room…” Her voice
trailed off as she realised Volkov had handcuffed her to the bar.
“Don’t take it personally, Slim.” Volkov pried her hand away.
The cake was laid before the birthday girl. Volkov moved into Andrei’s
path, palming a small remote control. Andrei’s brow furrowed,
his gun dangling uselessly by his side.
The candles were blown out, people cheered, and Volkov pushed
the button. A signal sent, a signal received, and a strip of detcord cut
the power with a sharp crack.
Action packed, hilarious and explosive – from the first time we saw his work, it was clear that Graham is a man of great intelligence – and man, can he write. Graham’s was a story that we simply could not put down. I devoured the whole thing in one sitting, and from then on looked forward to the days at work when the new edits would come in, because I knew I was in for a great time. No Free Man is an absolute rollercoaster – with brilliantly drawn characters and a wise-ass attitude that pulls you all across the Earth from country town Australia to the richly interesting world of Russian organised crime. Graham displays an in-depth knowledge of world affairs, espionage and the political and military forces that balance the world powers.
And brutal assassin Stepan Volkov can kill like no other, with inventive deaths sprayed across a great many pages.
Martin Green, Head of Submissions, Pantera Press
Get it at 5% discount from the Pantera Press website. Free shipping available if you sign up to the Pantera Press mailing list.
Raphaelle Race is a professional writer and editor based in Melbourne. Her fun writing can be seen in Overland, Junkee, The Big Issue, Kill Your Darlings, Phantasmagoria and Feminartsy, among others. Like many others, she is writing a book.