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Authors: Robert Muchamore

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BOOK: Brigands M. C.
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Dante reached the bottom of the garden, ducked under a slatted fence and began running across a fallow field belonging to a neighbouring farmer.

‘Please Holly,’ Dante begged, stroking his sister’s hair as she fought and kicked. ‘You’ve got to be quiet.’

The top of her head oozed blood. He remembered his mum telling him never to touch or prod Holly’s head because babies’ skulls are so delicate. What if he’d done her brain damage when she’d hit the wall?

The ground underfoot was soggy, and with no shoes and Holly’s weight slowing him down Dante knew he’d never make it across three fields to Mr Norman the onion farmer’s house before the Führer caught him.

Dante had played around these fields all his life and knew plenty of hiding places, but they weren’t much use with Holly screaming her head off. He thought about abandoning Holly and running for help. A baby was no use as a witness, so there was no rational reason for the Führer to kill her, but when riled the Führer wasn’t a rational man and Holly might have some value as a hostage.

Part of Dante wanted to sink into the mud and cry. After seeing his mum, dad, brother and sister die, death almost seemed like the best option, but a bigger part of him was determined not to let the Führer win.

‘Sssssh,’ Dante sniffed, as he stopped walking and ducked low behind a bush before gently bouncing Holly to soothe her. His curling breath caught the moonlight and his socks squelched in the mud.

Then Dante had a flash of genius. He wiped his little finger on the least muddy part of his pyjama bottoms and then gently introduced it to Holly’s mouth. Holly was teething and bit down so hard that he normally would have yelped, but with something to bite on her noise reduced to a gurgle. She also wriggled less which made it easier for Dante to hold her.

Dante saw the Führer step out into the back garden, quickly flashing a torch across the lawn, illuminating the bush behind which Dante crouched. Then the Führer stopped and pulled out a mobile telephone.

‘I’m not Scotty,’ he began. ‘It’s me; I can’t use my own phone. Just shut up and listen. I’ve got a big mess up at Scotty’s place. I need you to come up with some petrol. We’ve gotta burn everything … I’m not giving details on the phone; just do what I’m asking. I’ve got to track down his bastard kid before he mouths off. Get the petrol and be here as fast as you can.’

As the Führer tucked Scotty’s phone in his leather jacket, Dante considered his options. He’d never make it across the onion fields before the Führer caught him in the torch beam. He could probably make it to the road without being seen, but the roads around here were dead at this time of night. He wouldn’t get far carrying Holly, and the first people to spot him would most likely be whoever it was that the Führer had just called.

He thought about going back to the house and sneaking inside to make a 999 call, but if he was seen he’d be trapped and he had no key, so the only way in was through the back door where the Führer was currently standing.

Dante realised that his best chance was the push-bikes stacked up beside the house. His own bike was a BMX, which was pretty useless because there was no way he could ride fast and hold on to Holly. But the bike Lizzie rode to school each morning had a big vinyl pouch over the back wheel which she’d stuff with her backpack and hockey kit.

It wasn’t a great plan, but it was the only one Dante had. As the Führer reached the bottom of the garden he crossed into the field where he’d seen Dante heading a couple of minutes earlier. The youngster used the trees and bushes on the edge of the field as cover, moving sideways and then running across the concrete towards the car porch at the side of the house.

The bikes were kept leaning up against the brickwork, with the battered Harley taking pride of place on its kickstand alongside them. The lights were still on inside the house and Dante was horrified by what he saw.

His socks and the cuffs of his pyjama bottoms were thick with mud, the rest of his body was spattered and the dark patch of urine around his crotch had grown. He imagined what Jordan would say if he saw that he’d wet himself in fright. A hammer blow hit when Dante realised that his brother was never going to say anything again,
ever
.

Dante looked back cautiously and was pleased to see the Führer heading deeper into the fields. The house provided visual cover, but he’d still hear if Holly started bawling and Dante needed both hands free to move Jordan’s racing bike and wheel out Lizzie’s.

He crouched slowly and moved Holly’s head back from his shoulder. Dante never usually carried her any further than the walk between the house and car and she was surprisingly heavy if you held her for long enough.

‘Good girl,’ Dante whispered, but as he moved the hand away from Holly’s neck he saw the huge triangle of blood that had run from the cut on her head and soaked into her sleeping suit. Holly made no sound as he rested her on the concrete and pulled his finger from her mouth.

The baby looked still, eyes closed and a glaze of sweat on her cheeks. She was breathing, but there was stiffness about her and a dead look that reminded him of a plastic doll.

‘I’m sorry I hit your head,’ Dante said quietly as he wheeled Lizzie’s bike away from the wall and ripped open the Velcro cover on the pouch.

After hurriedly throwing out Lizzie’s GCSE history textbook and science folder, he cradled Holly and lowered her carefully into the pouch. He pulled down the Velcro cover, but deliberately left it loose so that she could breathe.

Dante was much shorter than sixteen-year-old Lizzie. His feet didn’t reach the ground from the saddle and he had to tilt the bike uncomfortably to one side to push off, but after a wobbly start he took a final look back over his shoulder as he pedalled up the drive.

The trees overhanging the road gave him cover, but he worried that whoever the Führer had phoned would pull into the driveway before he made it out. When he got up to the road he reached forwards to flip on the headlight before looking both ways and swinging out.

4. HANDS
 

Salcombe wasn’t exactly a crime blackspot. The police spent most of their time dealing with parking offences, low-level drug dealing and burglaries of rarely used second homes. Even the Brigands knew better than to piss in their own backyard and usually kept whatever trouble they caused behind the high fences of their clubhouse.

A burned out house with five bodies inside was the biggest crime in decades. Twenty-six-year-old constable Kate McLaren had never known anything like it. The fire brigade’s first impression was arson, but the house didn’t burn completely and the charred corpse blocking the front doorway had an obvious bullet wound in her back.

The media had poured into the area, split between the crime scene and the car park around Kingsbridge police station four miles away. Photographers, journalists and TV vans fitted with satellite dishes were double parked in the street awaiting a press conference.

There had been no official announcement, but it was common knowledge that two of the dead were Brigands and many journalists jumped to the conclusion that an old grudge had flared between the Brigands and a local gang known as the Headless Corpses.

The key witness lay silently in a small room filled with toys and cushions. There was a two-way mirror, a video camera mounted above the doorway and anatomically correct dolls that little kids could use to re-enact the horrible things that adults did to them.

As the only woman on duty, Kate McLaren had been asked to play mother. Dante’s clothes had been taken for forensic purposes. After comforting him during a doctor’s examination and taking him upstairs for a hot shower, she’d persuaded the manager at Woolworths to open early so that she could buy underwear, tracksuit and trainers for age 7–9. Through all of this, and the four hours that followed, Dante hadn’t spoken.

The child-friendly room felt too warm as Kate stepped inside. Dante was warmer still, having buried himself under every cushion and soft toy he could find. The click of the door made his eyes swivel and he flicked some hair off his face before going back to being dead.

‘You didn’t eat any of your lunch,’ Kate said softly, as she stared at the tray on the floor.

She didn’t know what Dante liked, so there was milk, juice and cola, along with two different sandwiches, packets of cookies, pieces of fruit, crisps and chocolate bars.

‘I could get anything you wanted, Dante. Fish and chips, bacon sandwich, a Happy Meal.’

The cushions above Dante shifted and the boy made a dry grunt. Kate smiled, hoping she’d finally made a breakthrough.

‘Did you say you’d like a Happy Meal? What’s your favourite, Dante? A burger? McNuggets?’

‘Will it make me happy?’ Dante said sarcastically.

Kate ached with grief as she tried to imagine what Dante had seen. Getting him to speak was a breakthrough, but she wasn’t a psychologist and had no idea what to say next.

‘I used to collect Smurfs when I was your age,’ Kate said. ‘They were little blue men with white hats. My parents got coupons when they bought petrol and you needed ten tokens to get a Smurf.’

Dante sensed Kate’s desperation. He felt cruel, making her sit there worrying about him and asking questions that he ignored, but there was darkness in his head like he’d never felt before. Everything hurt: colours hurt, sounds hurt and so did the rubbery smell from his new trainers and the itchy label in the back of his shirt. He wanted to speak, but at the same time thinking of even the tiniest movement filled him with dread.

‘Would you feel more comfortable speaking to someone else?’ Kate asked. ‘Like your teacher? Or maybe you’d prefer talking to a man instead of me? Because we don’t want to push you Dante, but you can really help by telling us what happened.’

Dante thought about his dad. He’d been let out of prison to witness Dante’s birth, before returning to serve the balance of an eighteen-month stretch for possession of drugs and assault. He’d told Dante that the cops fitted him up. He said it was better to sort your own problems. The cops were scum. Snitches and informants were lower than paedophiles.

But Dante wasn’t grown up. He’d have a long wait if he wanted to get on his Harley and settle a score with the Führer with a gun or a knife. So should he be a snitch or should he wait until he was old enough to get revenge?

Dante rolled slightly on the cushions and felt a burning pain in his bladder.

‘I need to pee,’ he blurted, aching with dread as cushions and teddies flew about. He stood up and glowered at Kate with manic eyes and knotted hair.

Kate led Dante briskly along a peeling corridor, past offices filled with desks and computers. The men’s toilets were through the last door before the fire exit at the end of the corridor.

The frosted windows had been swung open and Dante got a chill blast as he stepped up to the urinal and started pissing. After shaking off he looked at the sinks and decided to wash his hands. He didn’t usually wash if he’d only peed, but he liked the fresh air in the washroom and wanted to delay going back to the stuffy air and the pile of cushions.

Dante turned on the tap and repeatedly tugged the lever under the soap dispenser until a bright pink lake filled his palm. When he slapped his hands glistening strands flew in all directions, spattering the white tiles behind the sink.

He concentrated on the soap, finding innocent relief in swiping it up and down his hands, then rubbing them together until a lather mound pirouetted and shrank into the plughole. Dante imagined that his mum was watching him from heaven or something. She’d undoubtedly be pleased that he’d washed his hands.

She always said he should wash his hands every time he went, even if it was just to pee. Also if he came in after playing out in the fields, and before he ate dinner, and if he stroked Mr Norman’s golden retriever. If Dante had washed his hands all the times his mum wanted he’d probably have to do it thirty-seven times a day. On the other hand, Dante’s dad didn’t care about that sort of thing. He’d come inside after working on his bike, and get a filthy look as he wiped greasy hands on his jeans and picked up a sandwich.

But which one of them was right?

A flushing noise came from one of the stalls behind Dante. A big man emerged in a red tie and cheap suit. He slapped a copy of
The Times
on the tiled ledge above the sinks before starting to wash his hands.

‘Did I need that,’ the man said, as he gave Dante a relieved smile. ‘Better out than in, eh?’

Dante didn’t respond. His eyes were fixed on his hands, but his mind was back in the boxing ring from the night before. He thought about the difference between the world of his mum, where you said
please
and
thank you
and washed your hands and the world of his dad where fighting, swearing, selling drugs and farting out loud were perfectly acceptable.

‘Name’s Ross Johnson,’ the big man continued, despite the fact that Dante had ignored his first remark. ‘I’ve come down from London. I’m a police inspector, but I’m also a psychologist. I specialise in interviewing and supporting child witnesses. You must be Dante Scott.’

The words drifted over Dante as he scrubbed under his nails and between his fingers, struggling to wipe off all the soap. All Dante’s life his dad had been the cool one and his mum had seemed bossy and strict. But if all people were like his mum, he wouldn’t have had to watch her get shot in the back. Or have seen his brother and sister die, or Holly get hit on the head or …

BOOK: Brigands M. C.
12.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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