Table of Contents
I walked toward the door. At the same moment there was a crash of breaking glass. A bell went off. I turned and looked back.
It was impossible. A minute ago I’d been looking at a glass-topped cabinet with twelve red carbuncles inside. Now I was looking at a shattered cabinet with only eleven carbuncles lying in the wreckage. But apart from the security guards, there was nobody in the room. Someone had just stolen part of the Woburn windfall. The alarm bell was still ringing. But I knew it wasn’t me and it couldn’t have been them, so . . .
“All right, sonny. Stay where you are . . . Give it back, son,” the security guard muttered, holding out one hand. He was moving very slowly, like I was dangerous or something. “You can’t get away with it.”
“Get away with what?” I squeaked. My voice seemed to have climbed up my nose and hidden behind my eyes.
I pushed my hands into my pockets. I wanted to show them that they were empty, that it was all a terrible mistake. But before I could say another word, my palm came into contact with something cold and round. I took it out. It glittered in the sunlight.
BOOKS BY ANTHONY HOROWITZ
THE ALEX RIDER ADVENTURES:
THE DIAMOND BROTHERS MYSTERIES:
Public Enemy Number Two
The Falcon’s Malteser
Published by Penguin Group
Penguin Young Readers Group,
345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (NZ), cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand
Published in Great Britain by Walker Books Ltd, 1997, 2002
Published simultaneously in the United States of America by Philomel Books
and Puffin Books, divisions of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2004
Copyright © Anthony Horowitz, 1987, 1997
All rights reserved
eISBN : 978-1-101-17664-1
I didn’t like Peregrine Palis from the start. It’s a strange thing about French teachers. From my experience they all have either dandruff, bad breath, or silly names. Well, Mr. Palis had all three, and when you add to that the fact that he was on the short side, with a potbelly, a hearing aid, and hair on his neck, you’ll agree that he’d never win a Mr. Universe contest . . . or a
Combat Monsieur Univers
as he might say.
He’d only been teaching at the school for three months—if you can call his brand of bullying and sarcasm teaching. Personally I’ve learned more from a stick of French bread. I remember the first day he strutted into the classroom. He never walked. He moved his legs like he’d forgotten they were attached to his waist. His feet came first, with the rest of his body trying to catch up. Anyway, he wrote his name on the blackboard—just the last bit.
“My name is Palis,” he said. “Pronounced ‘pallee.’ P-A-L-I-S.”
We all knew at once that we’d gotten a bad one. He hadn’t been in the place thirty seconds and already he’d written his name, pronounced it, and spelled it out. The next thing he’d be having it embroidered on our uniforms. From that moment on, things got steadily worse. He’d treat the smallest mistake like a personal insult. If you spelled something wrong, he’d make you write it out fifty times. If you mispronounced a word, he’d say you were torturing the language. Then he’d torture you. Twisted ears were his specialty. What can I say? French genders were a nightmare. French tenses have never been more tense. After a few months of Mr. Palis, I couldn’t even look at French doors without breaking into tears.
Things came to a head as far as I was concerned one Tuesday afternoon in the summer term. We were being given dictation and I leaned over and whispered something to a friend. It wasn’t anything very witty. I just wanted to know if to give a French dictation you really had to be a French dictator. The trouble was, the friend laughed. Worse still, Mr. Palis heard him. His head snapped around so fast that his hearing aid nearly fell out. And somehow his eyes fell on me.
“Yes, Simple?” he said.
“I’m sorry, sir?” I asked with an innocent smile.
“Is there something I should know about? Something to give us all a good laugh?” By now he had strutted forward and my left ear was firmly wedged between his thumb and finger. “And what is the French for ‘to laugh’?”
“I don’t know, sir.” I winced.
. An irregular verb.
. . . I think you had better stay behind after school, Simple. And since you seem to like to laugh so much, you can write out for me the infinitive, participles, present indicative, past historic, future, and present subjunctive tenses of
. Is that understood?”
“But, sir . . .”
“Are you arguing?”
Nobody argued with Mr. Palis. Not unless you wanted to spend the rest of the day writing out the infinitive, participles, and all the restiples of the French verb
So that was how I found myself on a sunny afternoon sitting in an empty classroom in an empty school struggling with the complexities of the last verb I felt like using. There was a clock ticking above the door. By four-fifteen I’d only gotten as far as the future. It looked as if my own future wasn’t going to be that great. Then the door opened and Boyle and Snape walked in.
They were the last two people I’d expected to see. They were the last two people I
to see: Chief Inspector Snape of Scotland Yard and his very unlovely assistant Boyle. Snape was a great lump of a man who always looked as if he was going to burst out of his clothes, like the Incredible Hulk. He had pink skin and narrow eyes. Put a pig in a suit and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference until one of them went oink. Boyle was just like I remembered him: black hair—permed on his head, growing wild on his chest. Built like a boxer and I’m not sure if I mean the fighter or the dog. Boyle loved violence. And he hated me. I was only thirteen years old and he seemed to have made it his ambition to make sure that I wouldn’t reach fourteen.
“Well, well, well,” Snape muttered. “It seems we meet again.”
“Pinch me,” I said. “I must be dreaming.”
Boyle’s eyes lit up. “I’ll pinch you!” He started toward me.
“Not now, Boyle!” Snape snapped.
“But he said—”
“It was a figure of speech.”
Boyle scratched his head as he tried to figure it out. Snape sat on a desk and picked up an exercise book. “What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s French,” I said.
“Yeah? Well, it’s all Greek to me.” He threw it aside and lit a cigarette. “So how are you keeping?” he asked.
“What are you doing here?” I replied. I had a feeling that they hadn’t come to inquire about my health. The only inquiries those two ever made were the sort that people were helping them with.
“We came to see you,” Snape said.
“Okay. Well, you’ve seen me now. So if you don’t mind . . .” I reached for my book bag.
“Not so fast, laddie. Not so fast.” Snape flicked ash into an inkwell. “The fact is, Boyle and me, we were wondering . . . we need your help.”
Snape bit his lip. I could see he didn’t like asking me. And I could understand it. I was just a kid and he was a big shot in Scotland Yard. It hurt his professional pride. Boyle leaned against the wall and scowled. He would rather be hurting me.
“Have you heard of Johnny Powers?” Snape asked.
I shook my head. “Should I have?”
“He was in the papers last April. The front page. He’d just been sent down. He got fifteen years.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Sure, especially as he was only fifteen years old.” Snape blew out smoke. “The press called him Public Enemy Number One—and for once they were right. Johnny Powers started young . . .”
“He burned down his kindergarten. He committed his first armed robbery when he was eight years old. Got away with four crates of Mars bars and a barrel of Gatorade. By the time he was thirteen he was the leader of one of the most dangerous gangs in London. They were called the Slingshot Kids ... which was quite a joke as they were using sawed-off shotguns. Johnny Powers was so crooked he even stole the saw.”
There was a long silence.
“What’s this got to do with me?” I asked.
“We got Powers last year,” Snape went on. “Caught him red-handed trying to steal a million dollars’ worth of designer clothes. When Johnny went shoplifting, you were lucky if you were left with the shop.”
“So you’ve got him,” I said. “What else do you want?”
“We want the man he was going to sell the clothes to.” Snape plunged his cigarette into the inkwell. There was a dull hiss . . . but that might have been Boyle. “The Fence,” he went on. “The man who buys and distributes all the stolen property in England . . . and in most of Europe, too.
“You see, Nick, crime is big business. Robberies, burglaries, hijacks, heists . . . every year a mountain of stuff goes missing. Silver candlesticks. Scotch whiskey. Japanese stereos. You name it, somebody’s stolen it. And recently we’ve become aware that one man has set up an operation, a fantastic network to handle it—buying and selling.”
“You mean . . . like a shopkeeper?”
“That’s just it. He could be a shopkeeper. He could be a banker. He could be anyone. He doesn’t get his hands dirty himself, but he’s got links with every gang this side of the Atlantic. If we could get our hands on him, it would be a disaster for the underworld. And think of what he could tell us! But he’s an invisible man. We don’t know what he looks like. We don’t know where he lives. To us he’s just the Fence. And we want him.”
“We want him,” Boyle repeated.
“I think I get the general idea, Boyle,” I said. I turned back to Snape. “So why don’t you ask this Johnny Powers?” I asked.
Snape lit another cigarette. “We have asked him,” he replied. “We offered to cut his sentence in half in return for a name. But Powers is crazy. He refused.”
“Honor among thieves,” I muttered.
“Forget that,” Snape said. “Powers would sell his own grandmother if it suited him. In fact he did sell her. She’s now working in an Arabian salt mine. But he wouldn’t sell her to a policeman. He hates policemen. He wouldn’t tell us anything. On the other hand, he might just slip the name to someone he knew. Someone he was friendly with . . .”
“What are you getting at?” I asked. I was beginning to feel uneasy.
“Johnny Powers is fifteen,” Snape went on. “Too young for prison—but too dangerous for reform school. So he was sent to a special maximum-security center just outside London—Strangeday Hall. It’s for young offenders. No one there is over eighteen. But they’re all hardened criminals. We want you to go there.”
“Wait a minute . . . !” I swallowed. “I’m not a criminal. I’m not even hardened. I’m a softy. I like cuddly toys. I’m—”