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Authors: Tom Hoyle

Thirteen (3 page)

BOOK: Thirteen
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Nick pulled out his phone to have an excuse to glance down and to the right. She wore white sneakers with no socks. He noticed smooth legs and a short black skirt. She was more than pretty—she looked as if she knew things. Things he wanted to know.

“Hi,” he said, glancing away for a second.

“Hello,” she mouthed, the sound hidden by the approaching train. Nick only saw the movement of her tongue and lips.

Behind Nick were a man in a suit and a blond boy of about sixteen. The man carried a leather-bound book; the boy's hands hung idly at his side. Like everyone else on the platform they gazed ahead, staring at the tunnel wall and sometimes the adverts. They glanced at the arrivals board that now warned, STAND BACK. TRAIN APPROACHING.

No one thought of murder, or of blood.

The train thundered closer and closer, a fist of metal and air and noise. It sped out of the tunnel, the driver only half aware of his actions as he prepared to slow.

The man shuffled to Nick's left, next to the city banker, and the girl moved a little closer on his right. Nick felt his stomach flip pleasantly as she brushed against him. The boy, arms still limp, had stepped forward to stand immediately behind Nick, who, in the excitement and confusion of girl and train, knew nothing.

The boy pushed out his arms, and Nick was sent into the air over the track. The space was immediately filled with the train.

The driver saw a shape and heard the crack of his window before he understood that the blur was a body. There was a screech of brakes, then several seconds of slowly spinning silence.

Next came screaming and crying. People turned away, united in shock, too late to help. Not that Nick could be helped.

Blood dripped onto a crisp packet that lay between the tracks.

In the confusion, a man in a smart suit, a boy with blond hair and a pretty girl in a short black skirt left the station—unhurried, calm and professional. They had been watching Nick for a long time.

He was the eleventh boy to be killed by The People.

5
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2013

Adam awoke. A memory of Jake clutching his bleeding nose jumped into his head. He felt depressed and dragged his covers over his head. Then he leaned across, pulled back the curtains and looked toward Megan's house. Her bedroom faced his, although they were some distance apart. No sign of her this morning. But, he realized, with a pair of binoculars he could probably see in.

“Adam, get dressed. I can hear you're awake.” It was his mum.

He went down for breakfast. The good news was that he was allowed out with Megan that afternoon.

Before that, there were jobs as a punishment.

First his dad: “Adam—it hasn't rained for nearly two weeks. . . .”

So he had to water the garden. He actually enjoyed this, as the hose didn't reach the far end, which meant sending a snake of water over improbable distances. He held the hose between his legs and said, “Champion pisser—look, no hands!” until vigorous banging on the window behind him made him stop.

Then his mum: “The washing machine has finished its second load. . . .”

So he had to put clothes on the line. It was boring and fiddly,
but the sun was out and he could hear the radio playing some good tunes through the open patio door.

Then Megan appeared through the bushes at the bottom of the garden. She ran up the garden and stood in front of Adam's parents with her hands behind her back, looking completely innocent, more like she was eight years old than just turned fourteen.

“Hello, Mr. Grant. Hello, Mrs. Grant. Is it still okay if we go to Paradise Fields?”

After they left the house, their conversation was mostly about the fight:

“I bet he won't try to hassle
me
again.”

“I bet he'll try to
kill
you.”

And a few other things:

“I
will
admit to liking Cheryl Cole.
Everyone
does, Meg!”

“Adam, even
you
can tell that new guy on
X Factor
is
way
fitter than Harry Styles!”

Adam was his usual lively self, turning toward Megan and smiling, his arms waving around as if he was a puppet with a drunken operator.

Lost in conversation, they didn't really notice the scruffy teenager on the bench at the corner. He was part of the scenery, like a tree or a passing car. Adam was looking ahead, wondering if Asa would be outside Spar as he had promised.

So they did not notice the boy hiding his stained hoodie behind the bench and following them, at a distance of about a hundred yards, all the way to the shops.

Mr. Rawley's Corner Shop had the best collection of sweets in the area, and was regularly targeted by kids, who nicked their favorites when Mr. Rawley wasn't looking—even Adam had taken a handful on a couple of occasions, though he'd felt guilty both times.

Adam and Megan went in with Asa, who was bragging about his performance on Call of Duty and FIFA and trying to explain to Adam how to get around Internet filters. Megan was
more interested in finding the type of licorice that went around in swirls. While they chatted, the bell jangled and in walked the boy from the bench; he went to an aisle near the back, where he put small items in a basket. Unnoticed.

Megan didn't recognize him as the person who had been in the bushes. Equally, he was uninterested in her—or only
indirectly
interested. Asa was of little consequence to him. It was Adam he watched, even as they left the shop and walked up the street.

As soon as they reached the park, mouths full of sweets, Leo came running over. “Jake's here and he wants a scrap. He says that only girls sneak up on people in a fight.”

Megan sighed.

Leo continued, voice like a tolling bell, shaking his head slowly. “I don't think you can get out of this.”

In the middle of the park was a field, and in the middle of the field was Jake, with three of his mates.

Adam swore. After a brief pause, he said, “Stay here, Meg. I can't avoid him forever.”

Insults and swearing drifted across the park toward Adam. Adam couldn't make it all out, but “orphan” and “complete knob” were certainly near the end.

Megan put her hand on Adam's arm. “He's really not worth it.”

He pushed her arm away.

Megan sighed again as Adam strode toward Jake.

Megan, Asa and Leo all wanted to see Adam beat Jake, but it looked like an unequal contest. Adam was six inches shorter and had a smaller frame, though he was all muscle. Still, he threw himself at Jake and grappled bravely for a short while, landing a punch or two. Then the pair fell to the ground and Jake's weight winded Adam. A punch just below Adam's belly button followed. Finally, to make his revenge and dominance clear, Jake pushed Adam's face hard into the ground and held it there.

Adam should have stayed still. Everyone could see that it was over. But anger buzzed in him like a thousand wasps and as soon as he was released he threw himself on Jake again. Jake reeled as the punches came: chest, face, shoulder, ear, then back to face. He couldn't recover; couldn't hit back. Jake retreated to the ground as if looking for somewhere to hide.

His friends looked on, dumb spectators.

Megan yelled for Adam to stop. Leo and Asa bellowed for him to continue.

Adam heard nothing. “Leave me alone. And leave Leo alone,” he shouted in Jake's face.

Megan ran to him. She pushed her mouth to his ear. “You've
won
. We can go now.”

Asa and Leo patted Adam on the back, full of admiration. “Sick,” said one; “wow,” said the other.

Jake never bothered Adam or Leo again. Nor did anyone else at school. “He beat up Jake Taylor,” they said. “He's hard.” But the kids at Gospel Oak Senior were not the real threat.

In the corner of the park, between the swings and the roundabout, a seventeen-year-old boy watched Adam intently, wondering when he should make his move.

6
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2013

Somewhere in the distance a gate swung lazily against a post. Trees rustled, hushing the night. Drizzle hung in the air. And a car, with little more than a rumble, crept along the quiet residential street, then stopped.

Watery yellow light drifted from the street lamps, and a few early autumn leaves pirouetted to the ground. Otherwise, nothing happened and no one moved.

After a while, a man, a blond-haired boy and a pretty girl stepped out of the car. All three of them were dressed entirely in black. The man carried a leather book.

They had come to kill.

Inside the house, a boy slept soundly, head deep in his pillow, surrounded by posters of soccer players, graffiti art and girl bands. On the floor, next to a crumpled and poorly completed math book, were a PlayStation and a belt. A green light winked from the laptop perched on the end of his bed.

In the distance was the low rumble of a bus pulling away. Here, at 2:00 a.m., everyone slept.

The three strangers didn't enter by the gate: gates creaked. Neither did they enter by the front door: front doors were usually double locked and people recognized their sound. Through oily darkness, they went down the side of the house. Their first
five paces were on the left of the path—avoiding recycling boxes and bins. Their next three steps were on the right—stepping around an old fence panel. They had rehearsed this many times. Back at the Old School House everything had been taped out in the gym.

They tiptoed to the patio door at the back of the house. From his top pocket, the man with the book pulled out a small bronze key. Even in the gloom, it went into the lock first time—that had also been practiced on an identical patio door in the gym. They knew it would work: it had been stolen the day before when Marcia had lied about coming to read the electricity meter.

They dared not get this wrong. The four who had failed to kill the boy near Wembley Stadium two months previously had spent fifty-two hours in Dorm Thirteen.

Thoughts of Dorm Thirteen crept into their minds and scuttled around for a moment.

Upstairs, the boy slept.

His parents slept.

They passed through the sitting room and paused briefly at the bottom of the stairs. Items were sometimes left unexpectedly on stairs: toys, clothes, Legos, school bags. But these stairs were clear.

The three went up, all moving in the same way. Right foot first. The fifth and eighth stairs were missed—they creaked. Marcia had discovered this when she had asked to visit the bathroom.

At the top, they headed to the room at the end of the corridor. The girl walked five paces in, then switched on the dim bedside light. The boy woke suddenly, breathing in short bursts.

Initially terrified, the boy slightly relaxed into confusion when he saw a vaguely familiar and very pretty face.

“What's going on? Who . . .? Why are you . . .?” he asked blearily.

“Don't worry. Keep quiet and you'll be fine.” Deep blue eyes suggested reassurance. “I need to ask you to do something.”

She held out a handkerchief.

The boy frowned.

Then she pressed it to his nose and mouth. Initially he took a breath, but sudden dizziness told him that something bad was happening.
This is wrong
, he thought.
Why is she here? Help. HELP
.

HELP ME
.

He struggled but the girl's grip was too strong. Her right hand was a vice on his face; her left arm stopped him from rising above the covers.

He began to feel tired and then wanting the oblivion of sleep. It was as if his mind was closing in, shrinking, eaten by darkness. Finally the last glimmer of consciousness in the middle of his head faded.

The other two entered the room.

The man pulled out a syringe and gently inserted the needle into the unconscious boy's arm. A mixture of painkillers, ground-up sleeping pills and illegal drugs poured into him. Like dye dropped into a glass of clear water, the potion unfolded through his body. It reached his heart and billowed out into his arms and legs. It seeped into his brain. His breathing and pulse slowed. Then his body went into spasm and seizure.

His heart stopped.

He died.

Pills and syringes were left on the bedside table.

His parents slept on as the three left the house in silence.

An overdose, it was thought, probably accidental. “The young boy had been experimenting with a variety of drugs,” said the police. “Terrifyingly common these days.”

But there was one unusual thing about the boy: he had been born at exactly the stroke of midnight at the turn of the millennium, over thirteen years ago.

And he was the twelfth boy to be killed by The People. Twelfth on a list of thirteen.

7
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2013

After Adam had fought Jake in the park, he was treated with a new respect.

One day as he was walking to registration with Megan and Leo, a couple of sixth-form girls came up to him. One, who had the top three buttons of her shirt undone and a skirt barely six inches long, stood behind Adam and put her hands on his shoulders.

“There are real muscles here. Why don't you bring these to me in a couple of years?”

The other pointed at him with a long finger capped by a maroon nail. “You're a wild man, I hear. I hope I don't bump into you while walking home on a dark night.” She winked with a knowing look in her eye.

Adam tried to make his brown eyes twinkle.

Mr. Sterling appeared. “Come along, ladies, leave the lad alone.”

Megan shook her head slightly. She
really
did not like those girls; the more Adam did, the more she didn't.

Conversation at school was only about two things. One was a headline about the ugly coincidence that a handful of London boys born at the turn of the century had committed suicide. One boy had already been in the papers years before as “the
first baby of the millennium.” No one in Adam's year had such a birthday, but Leo had been born on the
second
of January, and Asa thought he should be on suicide watch just in case. There was also rapidly increasing discussion and banter about Rock Harvest. This was the last big festival of the year, and brought music fans together for one last gathering before the weather sent everyone indoors. Adam and Megan had been to the festival for the first time the year before. Rachel Meyer, Megan's friend, would also be there, much to the delight of both Asa and Leo, who made no secret of the fact that they fancied her.

BOOK: Thirteen
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