Authors: Anthony Horowitz
It was dinner time at 3, Wiernotta Mews.
Mr and Mrs Eliot were sitting at the dinner table with their only son, David. The meal that night had begun with a large plate of raw cabbage with cheese sauce because Mr and Mrs Eliot never ate meat. The atmosphere in the room was distinctly chilly. That afternoon, the last day of the Christmas term, David had brought home his school report. It had not made pleasant reading.
“Eliot has not made progress,” the maths teacher had written. “He can’t divide or multiply and will, I fear, add up to very little.”
“Woodwork?” the carpentry teacher had written. “I wish he would work!”
“If he stayed awake in class it would be a miracle,” the religion teacher had complained.
“Very poor form,” the form master had concluded.
“He’ll never get ahead,” the headmaster had agreed.
Mr Eliot had read all these comments with growing anger. First his face had gone red. Then his fingers had gone white. The veins in his neck had gone blue and his tongue had gone black. Mrs Eliot had been unsure whether to call a doctor or take a colour photograph, but in the end, and after several glasses of whisky, he had calmed down.
“When I was a boy,” he moaned, “if my reports weren’t first class, my father would lock me in a cupboard for a week without food. Once he chained me behind the car and drove up the M1 and that was only because I came second equal in Latin.”
“Where did we go wrong?” Mrs Eliot sobbed, pulling at her mauve-tinted hair. “What will the neighbours say if they find out? They’ll laugh at me! I’m ruined!”
“My father would have killed me if I’d had a report like this,” Mr Eliot continued. “He’d have tied me down to the railway line and waited for the 11.05 from Charing Cross…”
“We could always pretend we haven’t got a son,” Mrs Eliot wailed. “We could say he’s got a rare disease. We could say he fell off a cliff.”
As you will have gathered from all this, Mr and Mrs Eliot were not the best sort of parents you could hope to have. Edward Eliot was a small, fat, bald man with a bristling moustache and a wart on his neck. He was the head of a bank in the City of London. Eileen Eliot was about a foot taller than him, very thin with porcelain teeth and false eyelashes. The Eliots had been married for twenty-nine years and had seven children. David’s six elder sisters had all left home. Three of them had married. Three of them had emigrated to New Zealand.
David had been sitting at the far end of the polished walnut table, eating a polished walnut, which was all he had been given. He was short for his age and also rather thin – this was probably the result of being brought up on a vegetarian diet without really liking vegetables. He had brown hair, green-blue eyes and freckles. David would have described himself as small and ugly. Girls found him cute, which in his mind was even worse.
For the last half-hour his parents had been talking as if he wasn’t there. But as his mother served up the main course – leek and asparagus pie with grated carrot gravy – his father turned and stared at him with a twitching eye.
“David,” he said. “Your mother and I have discussed your report and we are not pleased.”
“We are not!” Mrs Eliot agreed, bursting into tears.
“And I have decided that something must be done. I tell you now, if your grandfather were still alive he’d have hung you upside down by your feet in the refrigerator. That’s what he used to do to me if I so much as sneezed without asking permission! But I have decided to be a little less severe.”
“That’s right! Your father’s an angel!” Mrs Eliot sniffed into her lace handkerchief.
“I have decided, as far as you are concerned, to cancel Christmas this year. There will be no stocking, no presents, no turkey and no snow.”
“No snow?” Mrs Eliot queried.
“Not in our garden. If any falls, I shall have it removed. I have already torn December 25 out of my diary. This family will go from December 24 to December 26. However, we shall have two December 27s to make up for it.”
“I don’t understand,” Mrs Eliot said.
“Don’t interrupt, my precious,” Mr Eliot said, hitting her with a spoon. “If it weren’t for your mother,” he went on, “I would also give you a sound beating. If you ask me, there’s not enough caning in this house. I was caned every day when I was a child and it never did me any harm.”
“It did do you a bit of harm,” Mrs Eliot muttered in a low voice.
“Nonsense!” Mr Eliot pushed himself away from the table in his electric wheelchair. “It made me the man I am!”
“But, darling. You can’t walk…”
“A small price to pay for perfect manners!”
He turned the motor on and rolled towards David with a soft, wheezy noise. “Well…?” he demanded. “What have you got to say?”
David took a deep breath. This was the moment he had been dreading all evening. “I can’t go back,” he said.
“Can’t? Or won’t?”
“Can’t.” David pulled a crumpled letter out of his pocket and handed it to his father. “I was going to tell you,” he said. “I’ve been expelled.”
Edward Eliot sank into his wheelchair. His hand accidentally struck the controls and he shot backwards into the roaring flames in the fireplace. Meanwhile Eileen Eliot, who had been about to take a sip of wine, uttered a strangled shriek and spilt the whole glass down her dress.
“I didn’t like it there anyway,” David said. He wouldn’t normally have dared mention it. But he was in so much trouble already that a little more could hardly hurt.
“Didn’t like it?” his father screamed, pouring a jug of water over himself to put out the fire. “Beton College is the best public school in the country! All the best people go to Beton. Your grandfather went to Beton. Your great-grandfather went to Beton twice he liked it so much. And you can sit there and tell me…!”
His hand found the carving knife and he might have thrown it at his only son had Mrs Eliot not thrown herself on to him first, taking six inches of stainless steel into her chest. “Why didn’t you like it?” he rasped as she slid in a heap on to the carpet.
David swallowed. He’d already marked the door out of the corner of his eye. If things got really bad he might have to make a dash for the bedroom. “I thought it was silly,” he said. “I didn’t like having to say good morning to the teachers in Latin. I didn’t like cleaning other boys’ boots and wearing a top hat and tails and having to eat standing on one leg just because I was under thirteen. I didn’t like not having any girls there. I thought that was weird. And I didn’t like all the stupid rules. When I was expelled they cut my tie in half and painted my jacket yellow in front of the whole school…”
“But that’s tradition!” Mr Eliot screeched. “That’s what public schools are all about. I loved it at Beton. It didn’t bother me that there were no girls. When I married your mother I didn’t even know she was a girl. It took me ten years to find out!”
He reached down and plucked the carving knife out of Mrs Eliot, then used it to tear open the letter. He read:
Dear Mr Eliot,
I very much regret to have to tell you that I have been forced to expel your son, David, for constant and wilful socialism.
Quid te exempta iuvat spinis de pluribus una?
“What does it say?” Mrs Eliot moaned as she slowly picked herself up from the floor.
“Socialism!” In two trembling hands Mr Eliot was holding the letter which suddenly separated as he tore it in half, his elbow catching his wife in the eye.
“I don’t want to go to public school,” David said miserably. “I want to go to an ordinary school with ordinary people and—”
It was as far as he got. His father had pushed the controls of the wheelchair to fast forward and was even now hurtling towards him with the carving knife while his mother screamed in pain. It seemed that he had just driven over her. David made a bolt for the door, reached it and slammed it shut behind him.
“If I’d talked to my father like that he’d have made me drink a gallon of petrol and then…”
That was all he heard. He reached his bedroom and threw himself on to his bed. Downstairs he could just make out the clatter of breaking dinner plates and the muffled shouts of his parents as they blamed each other for what had happened.
It was over. It hadn’t even been as bad as he had expected. But lying alone in the gloom of his bedroom, David couldn’t help wondering if there wasn’t going to be worse to come.
By the following morning a little sanity had returned to the Eliot household and although David had not dared leave the safety of his bedroom yet, his parents were sitting down at the breakfast table almost as if nothing had happened.
“Are you feeling better today, my little bowl of nuts, oats, dried fruit and whole wheat flakes?” Mrs Eliot enquired tenderly.
“We are not a muesli,” Mr Eliot replied, helping himself to some. “How is the stab wound, my dear?”
“Not too painful, thank you, my love.”
They ate their cereal in silence. As usual Mr Eliot read the
from cover to cover, clicking his teeth, sniffing and occasionally giggling as he found out which of his clients had gone bankrupt that day. On the other side of the table, Mrs Eliot, in a bright pink dressing-gown with matching hair curlers, hid behind the
and slipped a little vodka into her cereal bowl. She liked a breakfast with schnapps, crackle and pop.
It was only when they had begun their boiled eggs that they remembered David. Mr Eliot had just bashed his egg with a teaspoon when his eyes glazed over and his moustache quivered.
“David…” he snarled.
“Do you want me to call him?” Mrs Eliot asked.
“What are we going to do with him?” Mr Eliot hammered at the egg again – too hard this time. The egg exploded, showering his wife with shell. With a loud sigh he threw down the spoon and tapped the
. “I had always hoped he would follow me into banking,” he said. “That’s why I bought him a pocket calculator when he was seven and a briefcase when he was eight. Every Christmas now for ten years I’ve been taking him to the Stock Market as a special treat. And what thanks have I got for it, eh? Expelled!” Mr Eliot grabbed hold of the
and tore it into a dozen pieces. “Washed up! Finished!”
Just then there was a clatter from the hallway as the post arrived. Mrs Eliot got up and went to see what had arrived but her husband went on talking anyway.
“If only I could find a school that could lick him into shape,” he muttered. “Not one of these namby-pamby modern places but somewhere that still believes in discipline. When I was young, I knew what discipline meant! These days, most children can’t even spell it. Whip, whip, whip! That’s what they need! A good bit of bamboo on their bums!”