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Authors: Tom Hoyle

Thirteen (25 page)

BOOK: Thirteen
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Megan's voice, trying to sound far more confident than she was: “The second bullet
will
kill you, so don't move.”

He saw sneakers and jeans step toward the fire alarm and smash the glass. Then the door behind him opened. Megan had taken his keys.

Adam was hauled to his feet and pushed forward toward the open window. Viper drew little shapes on the side of his neck with a knife as Coron tied Adam's wrists together with plastic cord and then added rope, in addition to the handcuffs.

Coron held Adam's hands above his head, making a distorted and elongated O-shape. Then, smiling, he picked up one of two ropes tied to metal beams above ripped-out ceiling tiles. Adam understood when he saw the metallic clip at the end. It was just like one that would attach to a harness: he was going to thread the rope through the “O” made by Adam's arms and clip it back up in a loop. They were going to dangle Adam out of the smashed window. He remembered the silhouette Simon and he had seen against the side of the Old School House, that terrible night. Had that been in anticipation of this?

Adam snarled at Coron, “Get off me, you idiot!”

“The rope won't kill you,” said Coron. “But this knife will. Then the Master will be free to rule.” Coron's eyes were wide and wild. “Here we are at last: Lord, Disciple and Sacrifice. We are the trinity at the center of the universe.”

Adam was linked on to one of the dangling ropes. Coron picked up the other.

Viper looked at her watch. “Two minutes,” she said, handing the knife to Coron and moving to the other side of the window. She pulled out the transmitter.

There was a crunch of glass. “STOP!” Viper and Coron
turned. It was Megan, holding the gun she had taken from the man in Simon's flat. “Stop right there, and put everything down.”

Coron held the knife to Adam's neck. Viper held the transmitter in her hand. For a moment no one moved or spoke.

Then it was Coron. “It seems you have a choice. You can
try
to shoot Viper and stop her pressing a button that will set London ablaze, or you can
try
to shoot me to prevent me killing Adam. Your choice. Either way, I doubt you have much experience with guns.”

“I fired it three times in the flat when I went back to pick it up, and once just now into your security guard's back. I know that the bullet goes where I point the gun.”

Viper laughed aloud. “A choice. Trick or treat?”

It was a few seconds to midnight. In the distance, Big Ben made its usual sixteen musical chimes before ringing for the hour. Megan looked between the two possible targets, unsure that she could hit either.

In the pause before the first bong, Megan pulled the trigger: Viper was hit in the arm, little more than a graze, but the transmitter spun from her hands and came to rest on the edge of the open window space.

Adam kicked out at Coron's shins and kneed him in the balls, forcing him toward the edge with each blow. Toppling back, Coron grabbed at Adam with his right hand and kept hold of the remaining rope with his left, pulling both of them from the building. Adam's arms jolted in their sockets as he stopped about fifteen feet below the window, dangling nine hundred feet above London. Coron slipped down his own rope, struggling to get a hold, slightly farther down.

The deep sounds of Big Ben rang out.

Ignoring her injury, Viper leaped for the transmitter, and Megan ran toward her. On the second chime, Viper picked up the device, London as her backdrop, and on the third she stood and turned.

Four. Megan thumped her hard in the face. Viper edged back a little, inches from the drop, wind roaring past her.

Adam and Coron dangled outside the building, trying to hold on, each attempting to kick out at the other.

Five. Megan's right fist made contact with Viper's cheek. “Don't!”

Viper edged a little farther back.

Six. Megan's left fist pounded Viper's stomach. “Play trick or treat!”

Viper struggled to press the button, missing once, twice.

Seven. Megan's right hand hit Viper's mouth as hard as she could. “With me!”

Eight. Viper overbalanced on the edge of the building, arms waving, and fell back, the transmitter spilling from her hand.

Two policemen were sitting in their car below, listening to the chimes, when seconds later—
smash!
—something heavy landed on their roof. “Bloody hell!”

Nine. Adam swung himself across and kicked one foot at Coron.

Ten. Adam kicked out with both feet, his clip and ropes creaking and stretching.

Megan watched from above.

Eleven. Adam swung across again, but Coron grabbed his left foot and spun him around. If Coron was going to fall, he would take Adam with him.

Twelve. Adam's right foot connected with Coron's face.

An instant later, Coron's hand slipped from the rope.

For a moment before he fell, Coron's feet seemed to catch against the building and he defied gravity. New Year fireworks sparkled in his black eyes.

Adam saw him mouth one word:

“Thirteen.”

And with the next heartbeat, Adam became fourteen years old.

epilogue
FRIDAY, JUNE 13, 2014

The government inquiry into the events of New Year's Eve, 2013, known as the Kirby Report after the lead judge, took almost four months.

Adam, Megan and their parents had been invited into Judge Kirby's office in advance of the publication of his report. After outlining its contents, he tapped the document, which ran to nearly a thousand closely typed pages. “There's significant legal talk in here. There have been a lot of failures. But one thing that comes through clearly is how brave you have been. Adam, I don't know how you managed to keep your mind. You're a remarkable young man.”

Adam glanced down, embarrassed. “Thank you.”

Judge Kirby stood up and adjusted his blazer. “And now I have to present this to the press. I wish I could publicly congratulate you, but in this document you are Child A, and you, Megan, are Child B. How are you going to celebrate?”

Adam paused for a second. “Well, I want to hang out with my friends,” he said. He smiled and stood a bit closer to Megan. “I never did have a birthday party.”

That evening, surrounded by pizza and Coke in a real Italian restaurant, he did, with Asa, Leo, Rachel and Megan. Near
the end, Asa stood up and coughed in mock seriousness. “Adam and Megan, we salute you!” Coke spilled from his cup.

Adam laughed and bowed a little, looking at Megan. Then he was serious and looked at the flickering candle in the middle of the table.
Thank God it's all over
.

Thank God it's all over!

At the same moment, at the top of a castle far away, another candle flickered, casting a cold, thin light.

It illuminated the turning pages of a leather-bound book.

In a chamber, underneath the castle, a girl tapped on the thick glass of the container that imprisoned her. “Help me, please!” She tapped again. “Please, help me!”

But there was no one to help.

appendix
CULTS DO EXIST

Cult:
(noun)
A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members.

—
Oxford English Dictionary

In 1971 cult leader Charles Manson was convicted of encouraging his followers to commit murders inspired by songs from the Beatles'
White Album
.

In 1978 Jim Jones killed 914 people, including 200 children and an American congressman, at his camp, called Jonestown, in Guyana, on the northern coast of South America.

In 1994, after a fifty-one-day standoff with police at his compound in Texas, seventy-six members of David Koresh's Branch Davidian cult died in a fire.

Also in 1994 fifty-three members of the wealthy Solar Temple cult were killed at their base outside Geneva, Switzerland. One cult member had earlier stabbed his three-month-old son to death in the belief that the baby was going to harm the group leader.

The People, however, do not exist.

acknowledgements

Many, many thanks to Venetia Gosling, a
brilliant
editor. She leads a fantastic team at Macmillan; without Talya Baker and Fliss Stevens, the all-important final furlong would have taken forever. Thanks also to Rachel Vale for designing a very striking cover. Lots of people are involved in publishing a book, and at this stage (more than three months before publication) I'm not sure who will yet come to the fore, so apologies if I owe you and don't yet know it.

The manuscript would be in a drawer at home were it not for Gillie Russell at Aitken Alexander. She's great. Gillie made crucial suggestions when the first draft appeared and held my hand throughout the publishing process.

TAS and AMC were helpful young critics—many thanks. Thanks also to “Reg” Sansom, Charles Phillips and Susan Richards: you let me know that
Thirteen
worked as a story.

I was inspired to keep going by she who is always on my mind. Thanks to you. I'll write the book about aliens sometime.

The book is dedicated to the essential pair of TWSG and AW. They didn't laugh when I said that I would write a book in the summer holidays and were of huge significance throughout.

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