Read Thirteen Online

Authors: Tom Hoyle

Thirteen (18 page)

BOOK: Thirteen
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“I want these to stay here; I have a special purpose for them. The rest are to be taken to the London house. We must knock down before we can build. We have been slow to see how powerful and imaginative the Master's ways are. Our devotion to the Master must be absolute.”

Coron felt the Master welling up inside him, using him as a mouthpiece, his words tickling, enticing, enthralling. “One day you will be in glory. And not in some distant world, but real glory here on earth. Here, where pleasure is as real as flesh and blood. Pain teaches and punishes; glory rewards and electrifies. You are the chosen ones.”

How lucky we are
, they thought.
Millions—billions—of people on earth, and we are the chosen twelve. We are the ones in the same room as Lord Coron
.

“You are the twelve. One day you will sit on thrones ruling the world with me. And our time is near. The Master has shown me everything. His hand guided mine as we completed our book.”

Coron closed his eyes for about thirty seconds. At these times the Master blended into him. They spoke as one. Inspired. Unique.

“I want you to bring the girl Megan here. She knows where
the Imposter is. But she will not tell willingly; pain will be needed to draw the information from her.”

“We will make it so, Lord Coron.”

“And the Traitor, who has been helping the boy—we will break him into a million pieces.”

Break him
, they thought.
Yes. We will destroy him
.

“And leave two people in the park. Adam is nearby. Somehow he was there today. TODAY! ADAM! We have traced the text that she received, and it was made from the cell tower that is near the park. The girl was being watched, and she knew it.”

Coron looked at Viper and smiled.
She is young
, he thought,
but she is the best of my disciples, even better than her father. How unlike her brother
, the Traitor.

Coron spoke in a flurry of words. “We must thank the Master. We must thank him with a worthy sacrifice. Bring down the man from Dorm Thirteen.”

30
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2013

Excitement about Adam's whereabouts did not dim in the month after his disappearance. On the playground Megan was often surrounded by other kids peppering her with questions, like journalists keen for a straight answer from a politician. Megan preferred interrogation by the police.

“Did you know he was going to kill people?”

“So you've no idea where he is then?”

“Has he sent you a message?”

“Did you think he was going to kill
you
?”

Megan looked at each of the excited faces surrounding her. She couldn't blame them for asking, and though it was irritating, it wasn't real peril, not of the sort that Adam faced. And it would have been much worse if they truly suspected she was in contact with him.

Mr. Sterling dawdled across to the group. “I am sure that Miss James has answered enough questions for today,” he drawled. “And I need to cross-examine her again myself.”

Walking in silence, Megan followed Mr. Sterling to his office door. He turned and frowned. “Can I help you?”

“You asked for me to come with you, sir.”

“Oh, yes. I thought you might need a break from that nonsense.
I have no intention of asking you anything.” He smiled. “You wouldn't tell me anyway.”

“But . . .” Megan started. “I . . .”

Mr. Sterling stood with his hands in his pockets. “I refuse to do a jigsaw when I don't have all the pieces. And I'm sure you have more of the pieces than anyone else.” A rapid
clip-clip
sound was approaching down the corridor. He looked behind Megan and muttered, “Deny everything.”

Megan frowned as Mrs. Tavistock appeared, dressed in a neat dark blue skirt and jacket. “Megan, I wondered if you wanted another chat?”

“Miss James was just saying how much she would have liked to have a word with you, but was worried about being late for the trip,” Mr. Sterling said, closing his office door to stop the headmistress from peering inside.

Mrs. Tavistock puffed herself up slightly and spoke in the tones of an anxious grandmother. “Well, Megan, you know that I am always here if you need someone. I
really
understand what you are going through, dear.”

Megan thought of Adam's impersonation of Mrs. Tavistock, widely held to be more like her than the real thing. “Yes, thank you. That's very kind,” she said politely.

Mrs. Tavistock wondered how such a good girl had become involved with such a nasty boy.

Mr. Sterling looked at his watch. “That's it. I have to go. I'm part of this ordeal today. I hope there's something good to see.”

Mrs. Tavistock snapped into a high-pitched rebuke. “Mr. Sterling. You shouldn't jest. It's the British Museum. The British Museum!”

The trip to the British Museum was seen by most at Gospel Oak Senior as an inevitable but mild torment, at best an opportunity to escape lessons and, hopefully, teachers. Leo and one or two
others were secretly looking forward to it, but only the most committed nerd would have admitted such a thing.

During the journey, conversation had drifted from Adam's whereabouts and guilt on to either football (mainly the boys) or who fancied whom (a topic explored with equal enthusiasm by everyone).

Megan's class was given worksheets and sent to rooms full of Roman artifacts. Megan, Rachel, Asa and Leo immediately formed a unit.

“Right, Meg, you write it down for our group,” said Asa, peering lazily into a display case. Then his face was alive with entertainment. “Holy crap! Have you seen this porn?” He was pointing at a 2,000-year-old silver cup depicting an adult scene.

“Asa, you're disgusting,” said Rachel, with the tiniest flicker of a smile. “You've got a one-track mind.”

Megan wandered over. “That's what you're interested in, is it?”

“You bet!” he chortled. “My parents wouldn't let me look at that sort of thing.”

“I didn't know that was your sort of thing,” said Megan, pausing just long enough. “They're both men.”

Asa peered again at the cup. “Well. Nothing wrong with that.” Then, nudging Rachel, “But I happen to prefer the female of the species.”

People were staring.

It was then that Megan noticed the girl in the doorway. It was Cassie from the festival.

Viper, whom Megan still thought of as Cassie, was holding a small piece of paper, alternately tapping it against her chin and glancing at it. She slid it on top of a glass cabinet.

Megan strode across the room and collected the note. Viper retreated to the far end of the next gallery.

The message was blunt: “Follow me.”

Megan looked round. Her mind spun:
What can go wrong? We're in the middle of London
.

Asa was pointing at other artifacts now, trying to locate the
rude and amusing ones. Even Leo was joining in. Only Rachel saw Megan leave the room. She followed.

Viper stayed about twenty yards ahead of Megan as they wound their way toward the exit. Hundreds of people milled around.
I must be safe here
, thought Megan.

Just as Megan followed Viper, Rachel followed Megan—and it was Rachel that Mr. Sterling saw heading toward the door. The deputy head had positioned himself far away from the front line, where worksheets and ancient history did battle with thirteen-year-olds; he was by the exit, a packet of cigarettes tucked into his jacket pocket.

He followed, and the four parts of the chain were strung through the front door and outside. It was only as he left the building that Mr. Sterling saw Megan up ahead, approaching the street. He swore and started to run, already puffing by the time he passed Rachel.

Megan reached the road, which was busy but not wide. Cassie—Viper—stood on the other side. “Wait there,” she said.

Mr. Sterling could see Megan standing on the pavement talking to a girl—not one of his kids, she wasn't in uniform—across the traffic.
I really
don't
have all the pieces
, he thought, as he saw a white van stop and the side door slide open a few inches in front of Megan. Mr. Sterling ran.

And someone from behind pushed Megan into the van.

Weight giving him momentum, Mr. Sterling threw himself in front of the closing van door and looked inside to see Megan held by a woman. A voice in his ear: “Get back. We are taking the girl.”

“Bugger off. She's staying with me.”

Megan struggled hopelessly. Viper climbed into the passenger seat and turned around.

Tourists wandered past, stared briefly, and quickly moved on.

Viper threatened him: “If you don't go, you're getting a bullet.” Then slyly, “Look up,
sir
.” She was holding a pistol.

Sterling didn't think about being a hero. He didn't weigh up
chances or consider options. The words just tumbled from him: “I'm not leaving this girl. Let her out.”

Two seconds later there was the dull thud of a gun that has a silencer.

Megan screamed. Rachel and some passersby realized that something bad was happening.

Mr. Sterling was pushed from the van and the door slid shut. Despite a growing circle of blood beneath his left shoulder, he still tried to reach for the vehicle. “Let her go,” he croaked from the curb.

Rachel stood on the pavement, shaking with confusion and horror. She didn't think to look at the license plate and hadn't noticed what the people had looked like. She ran back into the museum, shouting, “Help, somebody help!”

Inside the van Megan was grabbed tightly. She could feel the press of a gun and was unable to speak because of the hand clasped over her mouth.

Viper turned around. “I'm going to enjoy this,” she said, smiling.

Megan was held hard against the floor in the back of the van as it jolted through London. Two adults pinned her down, but it was Viper's voice that taunted. “I am going to punish you if I have the chance. It's only right, given the way you've helped that boy. But I might show
some
mercy if you tell me where he has gone.”

Megan could see Mr. Sterling's blood on the floor. A couple of trickles moved back and forth across the metal as the van twisted through the winding streets.

“I don't know where he is,” mumbled Megan. She wanted to be brave, but her mind shuddered at the thought of dying so young.

“In that case, we might as well just kill you immediately,” Viper said. Then she turned to the driver. “Move into that lane; it's going faster.” And to Megan again, “Or we might wait, if you help us.”

Megan pressed her lips together.

“We might even let you go.”

Megan gradually regained her composure. If they were going to kill her, they would have done that already. She tried to blot out what was being said and listen for clues. They were certainly in heavy traffic, but that could be on any of the routes out of London. Soon they were going faster, with occasional twisting stops, probably traffic circles. Then they were at speed.
A highway?

Megan could hear one half of a phone conversation about her unwillingness to explain where Adam was. Viper was agreeing with someone. Then she was chuckling.

After about twenty-five minutes, Viper turned around and spoke to the adults in the back. “Please do make her less comfortable about . . . now!” They were passing the place where Adam had caused Hatfield to crash.

Megan was lifted and pushed and jabbed.

Soon after, the van slowed and started winding through smaller roads. Eventually it came to a stop, and there were voices outside. Then, thirty seconds and about six hundred yards later, the side door opened.

Coron stood on the gravel. “Hello, Megan. My name is Coron. Welcome to our home.” He put his hand on her shoulder and looked straight into her eyes. “Sooner or later, you are going to tell me where Adam is. Most people would feel awkward hurting you. But I am not like them.”

31
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2013

Adam's sleep was shattered in an instant. A shaft of sunlight had squeezed past the window blind and sparkled on his face. For a few seconds the world would not settle and make sense.
Where am I? What time is it?
Then the heavy weight of truth fell on him. He was still in Simon's flat. He had not stepped outside for four weeks.

He was lying on top of a duvet. Standing up, everything became blurred and liquid for a few seconds and blotches clouded his vision. His brow felt heavy with fatigue.

Enduring the confusion of light-headedness, Adam pulled open his bedroom door and saw Simon sitting at his computer. The television played in the background, something about government debt, then a noisy clip from parliament.

“What are you doing?” Adam yawned.

Simon picked up a subject they had discussed many times over the previous four weeks. “I'm looking again at that Google Street View image of the road outside the Old School House. I've seen that fence ten thousand times from the inside and four times from the outside. And one of those was when I escaped.” He left unsaid that the other three times accompanied murder.

“Just call the police. You don't have to go there.”

“I have to be
certain
that the police will find something
when we call them. What if the place is deserted? Or, worse, what if everything looks completely normal? I will have handed myself over and be a few fingerprints away from years and years in prison. You as well, possibly. I know that other murders took place, but I can't
prove
it. I don't even know where the bodies are buried.” Simon used both hands to ruffle his own hair vigorously. “I just need to see enough, or at least to know that Coron is there. Then I'll call the police.”

Adam tried again to convince Simon that he should join him. “I can't bear being stuck here. Even you go out sometimes. It's doing my head in! What if you're caught? It's been four weeks and there's another month to go before you think I'm safe.” He flopped into a chair with as much force as possible. “And even then I might not be.”

BOOK: Thirteen
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