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Authors: Robert Muchamore

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BOOK: Brigands M. C.
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‘Six months,’ Ross said. ‘But it could drag on much longer.’

‘That’s ages,’ Dante tutted.

‘The wheels of justice turn slowly I’m afraid.’

‘You left my sleeping pills lying around yesterday,’ Dante said after a minute. ‘I thought about swallowing them all so that I could be dead like Jordan and Lizzie. But if I died now, the Führer would get away with
everything
.’

‘He would,’ Ross said, then changed the subject because Dante’s emotions were so fragile. ‘We’d better get to the pool now if we want to be back before breakfast turns up.’

6. GUILDFORD
 

Two and a half months later

Dante and Holly now lived with foster parents in suburban Guildford, two hundred miles from the South Devon Brigands. Donald and Linda Graves were full-time foster parents. More than a hundred children had passed through their care over three decades, most recently in a large detached house that was licensed to house eight foster kids at a time. Some only stayed a few nights, others for months or years.

Dante’s room was on the first floor and his day always started with an invasion from Holly. He laughed to himself as her tiny hands battled with the doorknob outside, then buried himself under his duvet and pretended to be asleep as she charged into the room and dragged the covers away.

‘I want to sleep,’ Dante giggled, as his little sister clambered on his mattress and whacked her sticky hand against his tummy. She couldn’t manage to say Dante so she called him Ant.

‘Ant, Ant!’

Dante hid his face under his pillow. Holly shrieked with delight, burrowing alongside and finding herself nose to nose with her brother.

‘Up,’ Holly giggled, as she thrust her finger towards Dante’s face.

Holly had no sense of danger and Dante sat up quickly, an instant before she would have jammed her finger in his eye.

‘Crazy baby!’ Dante laughed, giving her a quick kiss before surveying a room lit through thin curtains.

There was an unused bunk above and his school clothes and backpack were scattered across the floor. Normally Dante rumbled with Holly for longer, but an electric wheelchair stood in the doorway.

Its occupant Carl was thirteen. He’d lived with Donald and Linda since he was a toddler and had severe cerebral palsy. Violent spastic movements contorted his hands and face as he nudged a control stick and whirred into the room.

‘Happy birthday,’ Carl said, holding out a gift as Linda walked in behind him.

Linda was short and chunky, with big glasses. Her permed hair was turning grey and her faded clothes seemed to have been through far more washes than was good for them.

Dante sat on the edge of his bed and smiled as he studied the tissue paper wrapped around Carl’s gift. It was all scrunched and the Sellotape was at weird angles, but Dante appreciated it because simple manual tasks like wrapping a present could take Carl a significant amount of time.

‘Cool, thanks,’ Dante said, as he tore the paper to reveal a travel chess set. The pieces were stored in foam slots under the board, which then folded in half to make a box.

‘It’s got pegs,’ Carl explained. ‘So I don’t knock the pieces over when we play.’

Dante had never played chess before Carl taught him. ‘We’ll have a game after school,’ Dante said. ‘I’m gonna beat you one day.’

Carl cracked a big smile. ‘You wish!’

Linda put a Woolworths carrier bag on the edge of the bed. ‘Just some Haribos and a couple of extra tops,’ she explained. ‘Don’t let the baby get the plastic bag.’

Almost as if she’d understood Holly stuck her hand down the bag and pulled out a glossy-covered WWE annual. It was the previous year’s title, reduced to ninety-nine pence.

‘That’s the wrestling book you were looking for, wasn’t it?’ Linda said.

Dante nodded enthusiastically. ‘I had it before the fire. It’s got a
massive
section all about Goldberg in it.’

‘Wrestling’s stupid,’ Carl said. ‘It’s all fake.’

‘You’re full of crap,’ Dante snapped back. ‘Those guys are so strong they’d pluck you out of your chair and toss you with one arm.’

‘But I could beat them all at chess,’ Carl smiled, as Holly opened out the annual and tried it as a hat.

While this was going on, Linda had picked dirty grey socks, pants and an ink-stained school shirt off the floor. ‘Get in the shower and put on clean school clothes today,’ she said firmly. ‘What must people think of me, sending you to school covered in biro and mud?’

Dante smiled. He liked the way Linda fussed over details like a loose shoelace or a scratch on his face, although sometimes he got upset because she’d use the exact phrase that his mum would have done.

Dante realised that Holly was still in her night clothes. ‘Do you want to come in the shower with Dante?’ he asked, holding his arms out wide.

Holly made a fuss in the bath and showering with Dante was the easiest way to keep her clean, but Linda had an eye on the clock.

‘I’ll give madam a little bath in the sink once you’re all at school,’ she said. ‘Otherwise you’ll be late again.’

Dante didn’t mind, but Holly knew what was going on and looked cross as she saw Dante grabbing the bath towel hooked up on his door and heading across the hall to the bathroom.

‘Meeee!’ Holly whined.

She was about to throw a fit, until she heard the hydraulic platform of Carl’s wheelchair lift swinging out over the staircase.

‘All aboard!’ Carl said, as he rolled the chair on to its platform and pulled up the locking bar.

Holly raced across and Carl leaned forwards to lift Holly on to his lap for the ride downstairs.

*

 

Dante showered until Linda banged on the door and told him to hurry up because she was cooking him his favourite scrambled egg, bacon and potato cakes for breakfast. After putting on underpants and combing his hair, Dante bolted across the hallway and found that Linda had straightened his bed and laid out clean school clothes. He had football practice after school, so she’d put out his Astroturf trainers to wear and tucked his water bottle and shin pads in his school pack.

Dante sang
Happy Birthday to me
as he pulled up black tracksuit bottoms and a red school shirt before swinging his bag over his back and heading downstairs. But he gulped in shock when he reached the landing and saw an oversized Harley touring bike parked out front and a man in a leather jacket heading up the driveway. Dante didn’t see enough to recognise who it was, but the Brigands logo on his helmet was unmistakeable.

The doorbell buzzed as Dante raced into the kitchen and yelled out: ‘Call the cops! Don’t let him in.’

But a twelve-year-old called Abby was standing right in the hallway by the front door and had already opened up.

‘Good morning,’ the biker said, as Linda realised who he was and rushed frantically down the hallway to block his path.

The staircase led directly into a kitchen and dining-room that had been knocked together to make a space large enough for Donald, Linda and eight kids to dine together. Dante looked one way, at Holly in her high chair, then the other, considering grabbing a knife from the kitchen drawer, but in the end he backed up the stairs and grabbed his mobile phone.

As a protected witness Dante was supposed to keep the phone with him at all times. Donald made sure it was fully charged every night and Dante even had special permission to keep it with him during school. The phone had been programmed so that pressing and holding down the zero key for three seconds dialled an emergency response number at the local police station.

As the phone rang in Dante’s ear, he heard Linda frantically telling the biker on the doorstep to
sling his bloody hook
. The biker’s accent was Dutch and Dante knew he’d heard it before.

‘What’s going on?’ an eleven-year-old called Ed asked, as he looked up the stairs. ‘What are you hiding for, Dante? That bloke’s got a birthday present for you.’

Dante didn’t reply because the police had answered his call. The police knew who he was from caller ID and he quickly explained the situation.

‘Stay out of sight,’ the female desk officer said. ‘We’ll dispatch the nearest car. It’ll be there in five to ten minutes.’

Dante considered escaping, but the biker was out front and the back garden had a high fence designed specifically to keep children in. He crept back down into the kitchen and joined Abby, Ed and two other kids who leaned out of the door into the hallway to watch the scene unfold.

The Dutchman had moved a couple of steps into the hallway and was trying to calm Linda down. He looked like a typical biker: boots, denim, greying beard and mirrored sunglasses.

‘I know it’s the boy’s birthday,’ he explained. ‘We’re not all animals, you know. I’m ashamed of the situation with Scotty and his family.’

Dante leaned out between the other kids and recognised the biker’s face. He went by the name of Doods, which was Dutch for death. Dante had met him at a summer bike festival in Britain and on the Brigands annual European run in Germany and Scotty had put on a big show of bear-hugging both times.

‘I have a gift for the boy,’ Doods explained. ‘Please don’t be frightened, lady. Scotty was a brother. We don’t all condone what has happened to the boy and his family. I came to pay my respects on his birthday. I don’t want to upset you or anyone. Take my gift and I’ll leave.’

Linda sounded worried. Dante’s location was supposed to be secret. He’d moved two hundred miles and even used a different surname at his new school so that people didn’t recognise him from the news.

‘Dante, get
back
,’ Linda growled, as he slipped between the other kids and into the hallway.

But Dante was calmer now. He’d seen plenty of fights in his short life. Doods was easily strong enough to shove Linda out of the way and would have already done so if that’s what he wanted.

‘Kid,’ Doods said, as he reached towards Dante with a big Toys R Us bag. ‘I wanted to wish you a happy birthday. You’re too young to remember, but I came off hard in a bend in Switzerland a few years back. Your dad pulled me out of the crash barrier. Gave me the kiss of life and made a tourniquet to stop my leg bleeding. I owe your dad, Dante. That’s the only reason I came here today.’

Doods put the carrier bag down and backed up on to the doorstep.

‘How did you know I was here?’ Dante asked, as a distant police siren sounded.

‘The Führer found out somehow,’ Doods explained, with a shrug. ‘They know you’re here. They’ve been trying to get a Brigand from a chapter in Mexico City to come over and kill you. You’re not safe here and I’d better go before I get hassled by cops.’

Doods dropped the toy bag at Linda’s feet and jogged back to his Harley Tourer. He pulled out of their street seconds before a police car turned in at the opposite end. As Linda ran out on to the driveway and waved her arms to attract the attention of the approaching police car, Dante peeked cautiously into the Toys R Us bag.

The gift wasn’t wrapped: a pair of radio-controlled Hummers with a giant bar of milk chocolate and a birthday card Sellotaped to the box.

‘Cool shit,’ Ed said. ‘Make sure you plug them in to charge before school and we’ll be able to race in the garden when we get home.’

7. MOVES
 

Two uniformed policemen stayed with Dante until Ross Johnson arrived. By this time Linda’s elderly husband Donald had completed three separate school runs, leaving Dante and Holly as the only kids in the house.

‘Will I have to move out?’ Dante asked, as he slumped on a beanbag in the living-room. Donald and Linda were on the sofa, Ross in an armchair and Holly lying on her belly in front of the TV messing with a stack of DVD boxes.

‘Basically,’ Ross admitted. ‘The alternative would be to keep you here and give you twenty-four-hour police surveillance, but we don’t have the resources.’

Dante had got used to living with the Graveses and their menagerie of foster kids. He was disappointed, but he’d suspected that moving would be the only practical option.

‘This Doods,’ Ross said, as he pulled a flip photo wallet out of his briefcase. ‘Is that the only name you’ve ever known him by?’

Dante nodded. ‘That’s how it works with the Brigands. Like, my dad probably knew the real names of all the guys in the South Devon chapter, but with other chapters it’s just nicknames. And it’s rude to ask.’

‘And he was definitely from Holland? But no patch identifying his chapter?’ Ross said. He opened the thick photo wallet about two thirds of the way through and passed it to Dante. ‘Take a look and see if you can pick him out.’

Dante took the album and flipped through photographs of Dutch Brigands. Some were police mugshots, but most were surveillance shots taken at biker festivals, concerts and runs. These were the centrepiece of outlaw biker culture, taking place during the warm weather between Easter and September with bikers from all over the world meeting up at a central location.

Some events were Brigands only. The biggest were open to everyone from lone riders to members of the major international outlaw gangs and drew in up to ten thousand bikes. At the friendlier events, the South Devon Brigands would hire a pair of coaches and bring along wives, girlfriends, hangers-on and kids.

BOOK: Brigands M. C.
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