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Authors: Simon Lelic

A Thousand Cuts

BOOK: A Thousand Cuts
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Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Copyright © Simon Lelic, 2010 All rights reserved
Published in Great Britain as
by Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan
Publisher’s Note
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lelic, Simon.
A thousand cuts : a novel / Simon Lelic.
p. cm.
First published as
by Picador, London, 2010.
eISBN : 978-1-101-18996-2
Investigation—Fiction. 4. Women detectives—England—London—Fiction. I. Title.
PR6112.E48R87 2010
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrightable materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Thanks and love to my wife, Sarah, above all, and to my family: Mum, Dad, Katja, Matt, Galina, Ekaterina, Sue, Les, Kate, Nij, and of course to our budding football team. Also to Sandra Higgison, Richard Marsh, Jason Schofield, Kirsty Langton, Christian Francis, John Lewis, Darryl Hobden and Anna South for their support, guidance and advice. Any errors appear in spite of their help, and are my responsibility alone. Thank you, finally, to all at Viking, Picador, the Zoe Pagnamenta Agency and Felicity Poryan, in particular to Kathryn Court, Maria Rejt, Zoe Pagnamenta and Caroline Wood.
I wasn’t there.
I didn’t see it. Me and Banks were down by the ponds, pissing about with this Sainsbury’s trolley we found on the common. We were late already so we decided to ditch. Get in, Banks says. You get in, I say. In the end, I get in. I’m always the one getting in. He pushes me for a bit over the field but the wheels keep seizing up, even though the grass is short and it hasn’t rained in a month. Sainsbury’s trolleys are shit. There’s a Waitrose just opened up where the Safeway used to be and their trolleys are built like Volkswagens. Sainsbury’s get theirs from France or Italy or Korea or something. They’re like Daewoos. Although Ming says Daewoo means fuck yourself in Chinese, which is the only reason I’d ever buy one.
How many was it in the end? I heard thirty. Willis said sixty but you can’t trust Willis. He reckons his uncle played for Spurs, years ago, in the eighties or something, and that he can get tickets whenever he likes. He never can though. I’ve asked him like four times but he always comes up with some excuse. Not cup games, he says. He can’t get tickets for cup games. Or I asked too late. Says I have to tell him weeks in advance. Months. Not the day before, even though it wasn’t the day before, it was a Monday or a Tuesday or something and the game wasn’t till Saturday.
So how many was it?
Oh. Really? Oh.
Just five?
Well, anyway. That’s where we were when we heard: down by the ponds. There’s this track that runs round the edge. It’s made of planks. There are gaps where the wheels can get wedged and it feels like you’re off-roading in a Skoda but you can get up some speed. You have to watch the flowerpots. They stick out into the path and you can’t move em cos the council have nailed em to the floor. I dunno why they bothered. They’re full of Coke cans now, not flowers.
When I say we heard, I don’t mean we heard it happen. School was half a mile away, back across the railway tracks. But these year eights turn up just as Banks decides to have a go in the trolley. He gets his foot caught and sort of falls, not arse over gob but enough to make me laugh. I shouldn’t of. He gets pissed and starts having a go. And then the year eights turn up and even though they haven’t seen him trip, Banks decides to have a go at them.
It was weird though. They’re crying, the year eights. Two of em are, any rate. The other one just kind of stares. Not at anything in particular. Like he’s watching TV on the inside of his glasses.
So anyway, Banks starts having a go but the year eights just kind of let him. They don’t run or mouth off or try to fight or anything. I recognise one of em. Ambrose, his name is. My sister, she’s in year eight too, she knows him and says he’s okay so I ask him what’s going on. He can’t speak. His words come out all squashed and stuck together. Banks turns on him but I tell him to leave it. In the end one of the others tells us. I don’t remember his name. Spotty kid. Normally I’d say shut the fuck up but he’s the only one making any sense.
Banks wants to take the trolley with us but I tell him there’ll be police and that there so he shoves it in a bush and says to the year eights if they take it he’ll shit in their mouths. They don’t look much interested in the trolley, to be fair. The spotty kid nods just the same, all wide-eyed like, but the other two don’t look like they’ve even noticed the trolley.
I’ve never run to school in my life. Neither’s Banks, I guess. I remember we were laughing, not cos it was funny, just cos it was something, you know?
I say to Banks, who do you think did it?
Jones, Banks says. It was Jones, I know it.
How do you know it?
I just do. He was pissed all last week after Bickle made him sing on his own in assembly.
Bickle, that’s Mr Travis, the headmaster. That’s what we call him cos basically he’s mental.
You won’t tell him I said that, will you?
Anyway, I don’t say anything for a moment. Then I say, I bet it was one of them Goths. One of them kids with the hair and the jeans and the boots they wear in the summer.
Banks sort of scrunches his nose, like he doesn’t want to admit it but he thinks I’m probably right.
Have you seen
Taxi Driver
, by the way?
You should.
We hear the sirens before we see the school. We’ve heard em already I expect but we haven’t noticed em. And when we get there I count ten police cars at least. Shitty ones, Fiestas and that, but they’re everywhere, all with their lights going. But I guess you know that. You were there, right?
But you got there later?
Thought so. Cos it’s your case, right? You’re in charge.
Sort of? What does that mean?
Well, anyway, there are ambulances there too and a fire engine for some reason. Some are still moving, just arriving I guess. The rest are all across the street and halfway up the pavement like someone’s asked my mum to park em.
I’m sweating and I stop and I hear Banks panting beside me. We aren’t laughing any more.
Everyone’s going the opposite way. They’re leaving the building, any rate. At the pavement everyone’s sort of gathered, hanging together in groups. There are some year sevens near the teachers, just outside the gates. The sixth-formers are furthest away, across the road on the edge of the common and just along from me and Banks. I can’t see any of our lot but people keep blocking my view. It’s like three-thirty or parents’ night or a fire drill or something, or all of them things at once.
Check it out, says Banks and he’s pointing at Miss Hobbs. She’s carrying some kid in her arms, crossing the playground towards the gates. There’s blood on em but I can’t tell whose.
Are you sure it was only five?
Well, whatever. So Miss Hobbs is crossing the playground, wobbling and swaying and looking like she’s about to drop this kid but no one helps her, not till she reaches the gates. All around her kids are buzzing about and the police, they’re going the other way, into the school. Then Miss Hobbs yells, she’s got quite a yell I can tell you, like the time she yelled at Banks for flicking his sandwich crusts at Stacie Crump, and one of the ambulance men spots her and legs it over with a stretcher. They disappear after that, behind the ambulance, and that’s when I see Jenkins with the others by the lights.
I tug at Banks and I point and we weave in and out the cars and over to the crossing.
Where you been? says Jenkins.
What’s happening? I ask him.
Someone went loony tunes. In assembly. Shot the whole place up.
What, with a gun? I say and right away wish I hadn’t of.
Jenkins looks at me. Either a gun, he says, or a fifty-litre bottle of ketchup.
Who? says Banks. Who did it?
Dunno. Couldn’t see. People were up and running and that before we knew what was happening. Someone said it was Bumfluff but it couldn’t of been, could it?
Then Banks says, where’s Jones?
Didn’t I say? says Terry, who’s standing right beside Jenkins. Didn’t I tell you it was Jones?
Jenkins gives Terry a punch on the arm. Banks doesn’t know it was Jones, does he? He was just asking where he was.
Well, where is he? Terry says but Banks is already moving away.
Where you going? I say but he ignores me. I run to catch up and hear Jenkins behind me. You won’t get in, he says but Banks doesn’t even look back.
We try the main gates first but there’s these policemen there dressed in yellow, they look like stewards at White Hart Lane. They turn us back. Banks tries again and has to scarper when one of the policemen shouts at him and tries to grab him. We go round the back instead, to the side gate by the kitchens, and there’s a policeman there as well but he’s talking to a woman with a pushchair, pointing at something across the street. He doesn’t see us.
I’ve never been in the kitchens before. I’ve seen em from the other side, from the counter, but only the main bit and even then you can barely see past the dinner ladies, they’re like sumo wrestlers in a scrum. Not that you’d want to. It’s fucking disgusting. The main bit, where they serve the food, it’s not too bad but in the back, with the cookers and the bins, it’s rank. I see what I had for lunch the day before, a pile of pork all glistening with fat like it’s been run over by a herd of slugs, just left on a tray in the sink. And there’s stuff all over the floor, lettuce gone soggy and brown, and peas with their guts splattered and smeared all over the tiles. I almost throw up. I have to swallow it back down. But I’d rather eat vomit than eat in the canteen again, I swear. Banks, though, he doesn’t hardly notice. He lives in a council. I live in a council too but a better one.
BOOK: A Thousand Cuts
6.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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