Authors: Barbara Spencer
âSo everyone keeps telling me.'
âYou're always so worried about your dad.'
Scott reined his anger in. âI know, Mary. I am worried â desperately â and he can't see it.' He leapt to his feet, pacing up and down. âThat Norwegian woman from the UN, someone tried to kill her. Blew her car up.'
Travers and Mary exchanged horrified glances.
Scott continued his restless prowling. âShe might already be dead, for all I know. Someone tried to kill Dad too. That's why we cut our holiday short. Remember, I told you they took pot-shots at me.' He shrugged. âI just want him safe. Not going to school every day, wondering if he'll be okay.' Scott swallowed loudly. âIs that too much to ask? And now Sean Terry says we have to leave the cottageâ¦'
âWhat! When?' Mary broke in.
âWhen what?' Scott stopped dead, staring at his friend as if he'd never seen her before.
âWhen are you leaving?'
âSaturdayâ¦ didn't I say?'
âThe day after tomorrow! I know, Travers. Have you ever heard anything like it? Two days! Not even two daysâ¦ to close up my life of sixteen years,' Scott fumed. âPlacing everything into a neat package for thatâ¦. Oh, I hate that man,' Scott swore. âWhy couldn't he leave us alone? We were fine till he came along with his grand ideas about the United Nations.'
âYour dad's really in that much danger?'
âAnd some!' Like a balloon bursting and letting out the air, Scott dropped down into a chair, all fight gone. âI know we have to go. And I know I didn't help any by walking out. But I couldn't stand it another minute. It's likeâ¦ the walls are closing in.' He gave a wavering smile. âSorry, you two. Didn't mean to bore you with my problems.' He shrugged. âIt all seems so hopeless.'
âButâ¦ but Hilary?'
âYeah, don't you just love it?' Scott glowered at the floor, his arms wrapped over his head. âTalk about timing. She arranges to stay here at the exact same moment Terry is planning to take us to the States. He sorted that out well.'
âYour dad? Does he know?'
âNot about Hilary. There's no point.' Scott's voice was muffled. âTerry's made up his mind for him. He's so fired up about Norway's troubles he's forgotten how his own life was destroyed. Now he's planning to do it all over again. And, however much I shout and holler, there's nothing I can do to stop him.'
Scott slept badly. Overnight the stark reality of the situation hit home. Doug Randal had said he could stay â and another night might be on the cards. Even then, he'd still need clean clothes. His jacket and jeans would do for a couple of days but not his underwear. Travers had offered and, worst come to worst, he'd accept.
Except, he had rocks in his head if he believed that could happen. He hadn't got a couple of days and it was stupid to pretend otherwise. This wasn't the sort of row where he could storm out and not return until it had blown over. This was something over which neither he nor his father had any control. He couldn't stay because the danger didn't stop with his dad. Their enemies had attempted to get hold of him once before. He was the weak link â if they found him, they could force his dad's hand.
Mrs Brody had always said that he and Jay were as close as brothers and he could live with them anytime he wanted. In any other circumstancesâ¦ But where was Jay? Scott flipped open the cover on his mobile, hoping to find a text. Jameson had called at break and left a message but nothing since. And, once again, his phone was switched off.
He glared at Mr Newman who was chatting to one of the students about their geography project, holding him personally responsible for the missed call.
No phones in school. No exceptions even for sixth-form.
That's what the Newt had ordained at the beginning of term and he'd broken the commandment once already this term. But today of all days, why hadn't he left his phone on? He knew why: because he didn't want to speak to his dad. He had to go and he had to leave Hilary but he'd be damned if he was going to talk about it.
In his head, he saw a removal van crawling up the slope, its interior full of boxes. Their lives. Uneasily, he shuffled his feet finding it difficult to sit still, wanting to reach the cottage before that happened. He simply had to get his stuff, especially his mother's photograph before the removal van appeared and shredded his life into strips of bubble wrap. Scott tried to banish the images crowding in, seeing the cottage empty, the garage a vast cavernous space without its climbing and sailing gear, the rooms inside echoing after the removal men had cleared everything out. Nothing left but an empty shell full of memories, stripped and deserted like a building scheduled for demolition, surrounded by barbed-wire to keep out the homeless.
And Hilary! What could he say to her? How could he tell her he wouldn't be seeing her again, watch the excitement of yesterday fade away at his news? Just when they'd reached this unspoken agreement, it was over before it had even begun. But, whatever he told her, he had to make it sound good. Try to act cheerful, even if he felt like dying inside.
Scott watched his class-mates flock out of the room the moment the bell sounded, unable to throw off the feeling that he was riding a runaway train, overwhelmed by a series of unstoppable events crowding in on him. Despairing, he slammed his fist on the desk top. He couldn't deal with all that now. First things firstâ¦ Jay. Clamping the phone to his ear, he replayed Jay's message. He'd already listened to it a dozen times trying to work out â what? If his friend was scared or worried? And why the Weasel? Scott listened again, silently repeating Jameson's words as he spoke them.
âIt's me. Got to be quick. Told them I needed a pee. Did you hear about the interview? I don't think I'm going to accept. I guess that makes you happy. Why? Too much money for a kid like me. Something's wrong. It's got to be a scam. Weasel set it up. Thought it too good to be true at the time. Check with him and ring me back.'
That's when Jay's mobile cut out.
Scott dialled again, the answer-phone breaking inâ¦
leave a message.
Where was the Weasel? And why listen to him in the first place? He was a snivelling rat. He'd always been a snivelling rat, ever since he'd joined their community the year previously, no change there. So what had he got to do with this? And why hadn't Jay called back?
Leaping to his feet, he hurried out into the crowded corridor heading for the canteen. âGangway, coming through. Anyone seen the Weasel?' he called, elbowing the chattering groups impatiently aside. He flung the question left and right, scarcely noting heads shaking and ignoring a muttered, âYou have to be joking. I keep well away.'
What's going on?
I missed you at break.'
Hilary pushed her way through the queue towards him. Scott smiled at her, all his problems wafted out of sight on a rose-coloured cloud that was Hilary. It felt like he was seeing her for the first time; newly born, every inch of her skin soft and waiting to be touched. Without thinking, he hugged her to him, kissing her hair, soaking up the fresh aroma of her shampoo.
A chorus of whistles broke out and Hilary stepped back her face scarlet, her fair hair glistening, the overhead light reflected in her blue eyes â now furiously scowling at him.
âWhat's that in aid of?'
âI've wanted to do that for ages,' he admitted.
âBut not in school, youâ¦ imbecile,' Hilary said forcefully.
âI'm just making sure I get it in before we're torn apart.'
What's got into you, Scott? Tell me?
âLater! I have to find the Weasel first. You see him anywhere?'
âHe's in the canteen. Why?'
Scott grabbed her hand, pushing hard against a row of backs. âJay's gone missing. Come on, you lot, let us through. We're not eating.'
Reluctantly the herd of students split in two, leaning casually apart, not for one minute ceasing their noisy chattering. Scott forced his way through the gap dragging Hilary after him.
The cafeteria was busy. Fifteen hundred students attended the comprehensive and lunchtimes needed to be staggered to cope with its daily influx of hungry bodies. The senior school drew the short straw making do with both a later lunch-hour and a truncated one, which gave them a longer day, afternoon school finishing ten minutes after the juniors.
Wesley was sitting on his own reading a book, wading through a lunch of jacket potato, beans and salad.
Scott rattled the chair opposite him to get his attention, quickly sitting down, while Hilary remained standing. âI want to know about Jameson?'
The boy didn't resemble his nick-name in the slightest. Slightly overweight, he was neither long nor thin, and his face was round rather than pointed. The nickname had arrived almost immediately after Wesley had joined the school because of his interest in Jameson. âWeaselling out my life-history,' Jameson had complained indignantly to his friends â and it had stuck. It was the boy's persistence, following Jameson round like a puppy dog, that had led to their taking up residence in the broom cupboard every lunchtime and break.
âWhat about him? He went for an interview. I arranged it.'
The accompanying smirk infuriated Scott. âI know that, he phoned. What I want to know is â who with? Who are these guys?'
Wesley shot upright. â
What do you mean?
They're business people. They want Jameson to work for them â that's all.'
âSo why is Jay phoning me to say he's nervous about accepting?'
accept. That's so crazy.'
âWhy can't he?' Hilary broke in, her tone fierce. âWhat are you playing at?'
The teenager leapt to his feet, leaving his lunch unfinished on the table. âNothing! Iâ¦ Iâ¦ appliedâ¦ they didn't want me. Jameson's so lucky.'
Hilary grabbed his arm, staring intently. âWhy, you weasel. You're on a commission.'
âSo what!' Wesley pulled his arm free. âSo what, there's no law against it. He's made for life with this job. I did him a favour. You ought to thank me.'
Almost breaking into a run, he vanished through the swing doors, the queue of students separating into two lines as he barged through using his elbows as a battering ram.
Hilary screwed up her eyes, staring after the fleeing figure. âSo Wesley's on a commission. How come? It's not like he works for an agency. And why the vanishing act? Did you notice how riled up he was? Hereâ¦' She subsided into the empty chair, her hand outstretched for the phone. âLet me listen to that message.'
Scott passed his mobile across the table. Hilary listened in silence. âAnd he's not answering?'
He shook his head. âI rang his mum. She's starting to worry. I mean Jameson acts cuckoo sometimes but he'd never go off anywhere without letting his mum know. I don't know how much they're paying Wesley, but we'd better get an address of the hotel out of him before she calls the police.'
The five-minute warning bell sounded for the junior school, a clattering of chairs making conversation impossible as students hurriedly stood up. Hilary got to her feet too, her hand on the back of her chair. âI've got to go. I've got a tutorial now.' She fixed Scott with a look, which he understood to mean she still had something to say. He waited patiently for the noise level to drop.
âLook, meet me after school. Meanwhile, I'll find out his home address from the school officeâ¦'
âYou can do that?' Scott smiled gratefully. This was the Hilary he loved. He blinked at the word âloved' quickly substituting âliked'. So different from him, clear cut and precise. He specialised in woolly round the edges. Except now. For the first time ever he knew what he wanted. Dad to stay put and Hilary in his life.
âSure. We'll go there after school. On the way you can explain your remark about being torn apart.' Hilary giggled suddenly. âI should be flattered that you are feeling miserable about spending an afternoon in isolation studyingâ¦ erâ¦ what do you study in geographyâ¦'
âWhatever!' Hilary waved her arm nonchalantly. âWhile I am the other side of the campus acting out Shakespeare.'
âI wish it was only that.' Scott bit his lip, quickly swallowing the rest of the sentence. There wasn't time to explain properly. Not even a superhero could come out with the words:
after today, two thousand miles of water will separate us,
and still make it to class.
Scott stared unseeing at the line drawings on the table in front of him, showing the various stages in the development of an amphibian. His thoughts whirled silently like a hover fly, flittering past Jay's vanishing act to land on the words he wanted to say to Hilary. He began rehearsing them over and over â
fate was about to drive a wedge through their friendship â
briefly on what he was going say when he did get home. The nerves in his belly griped with anxiety and hunger. Like Hilary, he'd not bothered with lunch, roaming restlessly round the school yard desperate to leave and get homeâ¦ and sort that out. And he would have, except he'd promised Hilary they'd meet up. And nothing, not even war, would stop him doing that. Besides, he wasn't wrong, not this time, and he wasn't apologising to his dad just to keep the peace â no way. His mind flipped, seesawing violently up and down. What Sean Terry had done was totally vile. He was the professional. He should have known what would happen if his dad got involved. You couldn't put people's lives at risk like that â it was grotesque.
Under cover of the lab table, Scott pulled his mobile from his pocket, anxious not to miss a message coming through, willing it to burst into life, and quite happy to accept the consequences if it did. Jamesonâ¦ Jamesonâ¦ he silently repeated.
Get in touch
He jumped, quickly glancing up at the sound of his tutor's voice. âSir?'
âYou have a problem? I can't see you doing much work.'
âSorry, sir. Daydreaming.'
Scott picked up his scalpel, glancing sideways at the skewered dead frog on the bench in front of him. Why the hell did he opt for biology? If he'd been sensible and chosen drama like Hilary, at least they could have spent a couple of hours together, not the few minutes they'd had in the canteen.
By the time the school bell rang for the end of the day, Scott's nerves were in shreds like his finger-nails, bitten down to the quick. Shoving the mangled remains of his frog into the lab refrigerator, he was out of the door first.
The decision to allow juniors to finish school before the seniors had been taken some years back, after one of the year-sevens had been injured, stepping out into the road in front of a car accelerating away from the kerb. Staggering the end of the day was supposed to reduce the chaos and lessen the chances of a similar accident happening. In practice, it made little difference. Teachers often used the extra minutes as punishment time, holding an inattentive class back for ten minutes or so; and coaches, hired to carry pupils to and from outlying villages, still had to wait for the seniors. As Scott pushed open the outer doors, he was struck by a wall of sound. He gazed round indignantly wondering why the juniors needed to shriek across the yard to their mates, like they'd not met up for a year or two.
Beyond the gates, it was worse â total chaos. The side road was narrow and already littered with the parked cars of residents. Parents, dropping off and collecting in the morning and afternoon, shape-shifted into wild beasts using horns and teeth to win a parking space over a rival, and frequently forcing their vehicle into spaces far too small, leaving the bonnet or rear sticking out into the road. Those arriving late only added to the confusion, stopping on yellow lines or in prohibited parking bays, their engines impatiently running, pounding their horns to alert offspring of their arrival. Departing cars were forced to hang back, waiting for the road to clear.
Scott spied the familiar shape of the four-by-four and Tulsa, his arms casually folded across his chest. He was parked quite close to the school, which meant he had arrived early obviously expecting Scott to return with him. But, whatever was happening at home, however mad his dad got at him, there'd be no clue in the agent's expression. Always the same, cheerfully polite, giving nothing away. That's what made him such a great companion, even if he was old enough to be Scott's dad; never patronising or judgemental, frowning or critical, giving everything Scott threw at him the same relaxed attention.