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Authors: Echo Freer

Tags: #Young adult, #dystopian, #thriller, #children and fathers, #gender roles, #rearing, #breeding, #society, #tragic

Toxic Treacle (9 page)

BOOK: Toxic Treacle
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Screaming Blue Murders

Angel had already made plans but she agreed to meet him the following morning. Monkey was restless. He'd wanted to talk to her - she and Trevor were the only ones in whom he could confide and patience was not his strong point. He felt anxious as he cycled down the road to meet the rest of the hood. The absence of his blade made him edgy. By the time he reached the corner of Moonstone Park, the others had already gone. He kicked the wall in frustration, then set off towards The Plaza. He was alone and unarmed - not a situation to be encouraged for a pre-breeder - and his anxiety increased as he neared the centre of town. He pulled the scarf up high and his hood down low.

It was still early and the last remnants of workers were on their way home ready for the weekend. As he rounded the corner of an office building, Monkey heard a jeer and whooping noise from The Plaza. He braked cautiously and scanned the road for any piece of wood or metal that he might be able to use as a weapon. A row of refuse bins, lined up in a delivery duct, drew his attention and he wheeled his bike into the darkness of the alley. To his relief, he saw a broken stake sticking out of one of the bins. He retrieved it, balanced it across the handlebars of his bike, and rode warily towards The Plaza.

‘Hey! Monkey!' several of the hood called as he threw his cycle on top of the tangle of bikes that lay in the centre of the square. The large advertising screen was now mended and, once again, flashing images of serene happy children and their nurturers across the centre of town.

‘Took your time,' Kraze challenged.

‘I'm here, aren't I?'

Monkey noticed Alex, Angel's brother, standing on the steps of the clock tower. He scanned the group and his heart sank; he was shocked to see that, like Alex, they were mostly novices. Apart from himself, Kraze, Danger and Fuse, there were only five other Mooners approaching graduation age: a grand total of nine fifteen-year-olds. There were a few from the year below, but the majority were only just out of alpha- school. Broadwalk, on the other hand, was a manual zone. Its hood were hard and, as the housing was mainly low-rise apartments or rows of close-packed terraced houses, it had a much larger population than Moonstone Park and, consequently, a much larger hood. Tonight's mission was supposed to be retribution but, with a force so small - and so young - Monkey was getting a bad feeling about it.

He pulled down his scarf and drew Kraze to one side. ‘Woz happenin' with the novs?'

Kraze looked Monkey in the eye and squared his shoulders. ‘We need numbers.'

Monkey stood his ground. ‘We need experience. Send ‘em home.'

Without lowering his gaze, Kraze called over his shoulder, ‘Hey, Danger - get everyone on their bikes. We're heading over to Broadwalk.' Addressing Monkey again, he lowered his voice and allowed himself a slight curl of the lip. ‘Looks like my call.' With a contemptuous gob to Monkey's feet, he walked slowly back to the group.

Monkey hung back. This was suicide. He didn't know whether to leave them to it and go home, risking their taunts of bottling, or try to work on Kraze to see sense. He saw Angel's brother cycling out into the middle of The Plaza, standing up on his bike, lifting the front wheel and spinning it. Idiot! Didn't he know that stragglers got picked off first?

‘Yo! Alex!' Monkey beckoned him over.

‘Raiza!' Angel's brother corrected. ‘Not Alex.'

‘Raiza.' Monkey nodded respect. ‘Coch with me - OK? And keep to the middle of the group. No limbing it when you're storming.'

Before the younger boy could respond, a deafening crack split the night, followed by a yowl and an outburst of laugher. Monkey pulled Alex back by the sleeve and went across to where a handgun was lying on the ground. Fuse was dancing up and down, holding his right hand with his left and swearing, while the rest of the hood ridiculed his ineptitude.

‘Where the fegg d'you get that?' Monkey asked, kicking the gun away from Fuse.

‘Some breeder my brother knows got it for me.' Fuse had two older brothers, both of whom had already graduated.

‘You're playing outta your league, cuz. Get rid of it.'

Kraze strolled over to join them and the laughter subsided. ‘Pick it up, Fuse. We need it against Broadwalk.'

Monkey bent down and picked up the gun but did not hand it back to Fuse. ‘You can't go over there blazin',' he said to Kraze. ‘It's ranged.' Kraze held out his hand for the gun, but Monkey shook his head. ‘Do us all a favour and call this off before it's too late.'

‘You know something?' Kraze said, pacing the square; aware that his leadership was being called into question. ‘I've been wondering about you, for a long time.' He circled Monkey, like a lion stalking its prey. ‘There's something...' He spun round and, drawing a shank from his pocket, held the blade against Monkey's cheek. ‘...not quite koshe about you.'

Monkey reared away, shocked at the unexpected turn of events. He'd always thought that if, by some unfortunate accident, he was one of the pre-breeders to die in The Plaza, it would be at the hands of another hood - not his own. He held out the gun in a gesture of capitulation; if Kraze needed it in order to boost his confidence, let him take it. Fuse took the firearm gingerly, but Kraze did not release his knife from Monkey's face.

‘I don't know what it is,' he went on, menacingly. ‘Something in my gut. What d'ya say, Raiza?'

Angel's brother stepped forward. ‘S'right, Kraze. Monk and my sis have been jaunting outta town.'

Monkey felt his stomach knot up. They'd been sussed. His face flushed as he struggled to keep his eyes fixed on Kraze. Slowly, he tried to move his head backwards, in an attempt to relieve the pressure of the knife against his cheek. His mind was in turmoil. His chest barely moved as his breathing became more and more shallow. He knew he had to stay calm; not give anything away. How was he going to get out of this one? And, more importantly, how was he going to get Angel out of it? A warm trickle ran from his cheekbone, where the blade rested, to his jaw.

Still holding the knife in place, Kraze moved forwards until Monkey could feel his breath against his upper lip.

‘So where've you been jauntin', Monk?' Suddenly, he lowered his knife. As he stepped away, his tone became taunting, ‘All dolled up in a nurturer's dress with a little bow in your hair, eh, cuz?'

Monkey fixed Alex with a look of betrayal. How much more did he know, he wondered, and why had he left it until now to say anything?

Feigning nonchalance, he grinned at his tormentor. ‘You know what it's like.' He raised his eyebrows and gave a suggestive smirk. ‘Waiting ‘till we're in the zone's a mug's game. Me and Angel's got a thing going on - it's no big deal.'

He held his breath, hoping that Alex hadn't actually followed them to the village and that his own quick thinking had got him out of a potentially lethal situation. He would deal with the consequences of his explanation later but, right now, he needed to come out of this alive.

No one spoke. The rest of the hood waited; a pack poised to pounce. Monkey scoured his leader's face for some sign that his story had been believed. Eventually, Kraze tucked his shank back into his waistband and Monkey let out a barely perceptible sigh of relief.

Still holding his stare, Kraze issued a warning, ‘Don't scant me, Monk. ‘Cos if I ‘scover you bin snaking' on us...'

Before he could voice the threat, a second shot split the air. A loud whoop reverberated across The Plaza. Monkey looked to the direction of the shot and saw a group of pre-breeders, at least fifty strong, cycling in random formation at the southerly side of the square.

‘Broadwalk!' he yelled at Kraze. ‘Get ‘em outta here!'

A third shot rang out, then a fourth. Instinctively, Monkey ducked. The younger members ran for cover. Some stumbled, some fell; others crashed into the mountain of bikes in their panic.

Fuse raised his own gun to retaliate.

‘Get down!' Monkey yelled.

Another crack echoed round the town centre. Fuse lurched. He staggered a couple of steps, then crumpled onto Monkey.

‘Quick!' Monkey hissed at the others, trying to drag Fuse out of the firing line. ‘Help me!' he shouted to Danger. Fuse was cradled in his arms, a look of abject terror in his eyes. Monkey tried to reassure him. ‘‘S OK, cuz. You gonna be OK.'

Fuse opened his mouth. No sound came, so he shut it again. His eyelids flickered and closed. A brief tremor ran the length of his body, then he slumped, limp and heavy, against Monkey's chest.

‘Fuse!' Monkey shook him. ‘Fuse! Stay with us!'

Another shot ricocheted across the now deserted square. Monkey beckoned to Danger for assistance.

‘Get outta there!' Danger shouted. ‘Leave him!'

A victorious taunt echoed round the empty square, interspersed with gunfire. This time, into the air.

Monkey tried, in vain, to pull the lifeless form of Fuse to one side, but he had been big for his age and his dead weight was too much for Monkey. As an intermittent red light flashed a warning of an approaching stealth, Monkey reluctantly left the body of his friend on the steps of the clock tower and headed for safety.

Most of the other Mooners, including Kraze, had scattered to regroup on their own turf, but Monkey was too agitated to leave the scene. He paced up and down a delivery duct, trying to get his head together; trying to make sense of what had happened. Fuse was one of the good guys: Mark Watts - gentle giant; always eager to please. Not the sharpest tool in the box, but not malicious. He'd been due to graduate shortly after Monkey. The youngest of three brothers, all with different providers, his nurturer had worked her way up from the Artisans' Zone to become a manager with a house in Moonstone Park. But Fuse had not inherited her ambition. He would have been content to spend his life doing what The Assembly said providers did best: working, drinking and watching sport.

Monkey unwrapped the scarf from his neck and held it up to stem the flow of blood from the gash on his cheek, aware that his injury was negligible compared to what had just happened to his mate. He kicked the side of an industrial bin in rage and let out a roar of grief and fury.

Tom was right; this had to stop! And he was going to do everything in his power to make that happen. He flicked on his ring-cam.

‘What's this about?' Angel asked, aware of the anxiety in his tone.

‘Can't say.' There was silence. ‘Where are you, anyway?'

‘Moni's,' she replied.

‘Get outta there.'

‘Mick...'

‘Now! Just get away.' Monkey could see from her expression that Angel was not happy at being ordered out of her friend's house. ‘I mean it - you have to get out of there!'

‘I don't
have
to do any...' Angel broke off and gasped as Monkey turned the side of his face to the ring-cam so that she could see the gash on his cheek. ‘How...' She bit her bottom lip as Monkey ran his cam the length of his body allowing her to see his bloodstained clothing too.

Monkey raised the ring-cam to his face again. ‘Meet me at the usual place in ten. I'll explain everything. But be careful - we've been sussed.' Then he added, urgently, ‘And don't say jack to Moni.'

***

Monkey paced the disused track above the bridge as he related the events of the evening. Angel sat on a pile of rotting sleepers, listening in silence.

‘So, I have to get outta here - now!' He stared at her, willing her to agree to go with him.

As though by telepathy, Angel understood. She lowered her head into her hands. ‘It's not that simple.'

‘OK - I'll make it simple: my prints are on that gun and Fuse's blood is on my clothes. As soon as Security realise it, I'm on The Farm - for life! I have to get away - tonight.'

‘But you didn't shoot him.'

‘I know that and everyone there knows it, but do you think Security are interested? They've got a body and a gun - you think they want to know the whys and wherefores?' Monkey countered. ‘The Prof already thinks I'm mixed up in Tragic's disappearance. What happens if they dust down Jane's house and match the prints there with the ones on the gun? I'm gonna be interrogated about all that crap, too. And believe me...' He gave an anxious laugh. ‘I am no superhero: I'm the sort who'll crack under pressure.'

Angel did not return his laughter. ‘My prints are in Tragic's cellar, too.'

Monkey nodded. ‘I know.' Serious again, he dropped onto his haunches in front of her and took her hands in his. ‘I am so sorry I got you involved with all this.' Angel, Monkey noticed, did not remove her hands from his. They were cold and delicate and he wanted to kiss them. ‘Come with me,' he pleaded. ‘We can go to the village. We can live there together and have bubs and we'll be happy like Tom and Jane and...'

‘It won't work.' Angel pulled her hands free and stood up. ‘Running away never works.' It was her turn to pace; mulling over the situation, trying to formulate a plan. ‘We can go to Sal!' she said, as though the most obvious solution had been staring them in the face all along.

‘No way!'

Ignoring Monkey, her enthusiasm increased. ‘Of course! She's a solicitor; she'll understand. She'll get you off. I should've talked to her earlier...'

‘Ssssh!' Monkey took Angel's hand and pulled her into the undergrowth behind the pile of timbers.

From the road below, they heard footsteps, followed by voices.

‘You say you saw them together?' It was an adult male; weary but abrupt. Monkey put his finger to his lip, indicating for Angel to remain silent.

A younger female voice said something inaudible in reply.

‘Well, they're not here now, are they?' said the male.

Monkey strained to hear the response but it was too quiet.

The adult spoke again. ‘Consorting with a pre-breeder's a pretty strong accusation, you know. You sure you got your facts straight?' Angel looked at Monkey anxiously. They heard the male's voice soften to an almost teasing tone. ‘You wouldn't be the first pre-nurturer to get a touch of the green-eye coming up to graduation and make up a story to get a rival out of the picture.'

BOOK: Toxic Treacle
10.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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