Read CHERUB: The Sleepwalker Online
Authors: Robert Muchamore
Up ahead there was a massive metallic slam as a group of Year-Eight boys bundled into a vandalised locker unit. Year Sevens were refilling Fruit Shoot bottles from the drinking fountain and squirting them at each other.
‘I’ve been watching Fahim,’ Jake said, as he kept a wary eye on the water fight.
‘Where is he now?’ Lauren asked.
‘He stayed back at the end of history to talk to the teacher, but that’s the first time I’ve seen him really speak to anyone. There’s a couple of Asian boys in my class and I think Fahim’s trying to get in with them, but they’re best mates with each other and they’re totally blanking him.’
‘Poor Fahim,’ Lauren nodded sadly. ‘It makes our job easier, at least.’
‘I know,’ Jake said. ‘Next lesson is combined science. I don’t know what the seating arrangements are like, but if I can get near to Fahim I might try to be his lab partner or something.’
Lauren nodded. ‘OK, but however it pans out we’ll introduce ourselves properly after school, so don’t lose sight of him then.’
Harold said he liked to keep busy and James, Kerry and Gemma were happy to let him work the till and wipe down the odd table. A couple of extra staff came in to work over lunchtime and once the rush was over, James found himself sharing a lunch break with Gemma.
‘Where you going, James?’ she asked, as she pulled on a white puffa jacket.
‘Dunno,’ James said. ‘Buy lunch or something, I guess. There’s a PC World across the street, I might have a wander over there for a browse.’
Gemma smiled. ‘Never had you pegged for a computer geek.’
‘I’m not,’ James said defensively. ‘Just … I’ll get some money for my birthday in a few weeks and I was gonna see if there were any decent computer games around.’
‘Suit yourself,’ Gemma said, as she did up her zip. ‘I’m going up to the pub on the corner. My Danny works behind the bar, and the grub’s not too bad.’
James shrugged. ‘Pubs won’t usually serve me. I still don’t exactly pass for eighteen.’
‘I guess not, but where I sit’s usually closed to the punters. You’ll be sweet and they do a wicked chilli burger with rice.’
The smell of frying in Deluxe Chicken had stunted James’ appetite, but the chilli burger sounded OK and the prospect of wandering around shops for an hour wasn’t exactly exciting.
When they reached the pub, Danny came out from behind the bar and gave Gemma a kiss. He wore head-to-toe denim and looked like he was touching thirty. There were faded tattoos on his beefy hands, including a couple of handmade prison tattoos and an Arsenal logo.
James followed Danny and Gemma behind the bar and into an area of the pub with dartboards and pool tables which was only open on evenings and weekends. Gemma lit up a cigarette as they sat in the deserted space with pints of beer, waiting for their burgers.
‘You’re an Arsenal man,’ James noted, as he downed a third of his beer.
‘Too right,’ Danny said.
‘You ever go to matches?’
Danny shrugged. ‘Not in donkey’s years. When I was your age I used to go to Junior Gunners. It was such a laugh. Three quid to get in and then you’d go crawling round all the pubs afterwards, come home completely plastered and get shouted at by your ma. Nowadays it’s fifty quid a game, you’ve gotta be minted, ya know?’
James nodded. ‘I’ve heard Highbury was pretty mental in the old days. Did you ever see any trouble?’
Danny laughed. ‘If I couldn’t see trouble, I’d start some. One time I got nicked for twatting a couple of Chelsea mugs.
Thought they were well hard, but they went down like sacks of shite.’
‘What did you get?’ James asked.
‘Caution,’ Danny admitted, sounding almost embarrassed. ‘But I was only sixteen. Getting nicked was like a badge of honour. When I finally got sent down a couple of years later it was for head-butting a priest when I was robbing the tills at Tesco.’
‘Priest,’ James laughed.
‘I was dead nervous, you see. I saw this bloke all in black in the corner of my eye and I thought he was a copper … Another round?’
James stood up and pulled out his wallet. ‘I’ll get them in.’
‘Don’t worry, son,’ Danny smiled. ‘You don’t think I’m paying for any of this, do you?’
Danny came back a couple of minutes later with three more pints and three shot glasses filled with tequila.
‘Down the hatch,’ Danny shouted, as he emptied the shot glass and drained half of his Guinness. ‘So when did you last go to the Arsenal, James?’
‘Yonks ago,’ James said. ‘I keep meaning to sort it out, but you’ve got to get a membership card and stuff.’
‘It gets on my tits, all that,’ Danny nodded.
Gemma wasn’t keen on spending her lunchbreak talking about football. ‘Have you still got the picture of our boys?’ she asked.
‘Sure,’ Danny said, as he pulled his wallet away from his enormous denim-clad butt and flipped it open.
James was surprised to see a picture of Gemma holding a baby boy, while another aged about four stood on the carpet beside her.
‘They’re cute,’ James smiled. ‘You must have been pretty young when you had the first one.’
Gemma pointed to Danny. ‘The dirty sod knocked me up when I was sixteen,’ she giggled. ‘My old dad went mental.’
‘Gemma’s dad’s a dentist,’ Danny laughed. ‘Drives a Lexus, right pompous git.’
Gemma nodded. ‘He won’t have nothing to do with me now. I think he wanted me to marry some boring accountant, or something.’
‘Plus I smacked him one when he got up on his high horse,’ Danny added.
James was starting to get the impression that Danny wasn’t exactly the friendliest person on the planet.
‘So, do you go clubbing, James?’ Danny asked.
‘Too young,’ James said. ‘I mean, I’ve heard the cops keep all the clubs around here on a tight leash.’
Danny smiled. ‘Cops are cops. Put a crate of whisky in the back of a panda car and they’d let you run a human sacrifice. Do you know the Outrage club?’
‘Isn’t that a gay place?’ James asked.
‘Years back,’ Danny said. ‘But these days they’re open to all sorts and I’m starting up my own night there every Wednesday. Me and a couple of mates work the door, so if you show I’ll make sure you get in. Then there’s a DJ who’s my mate’s little brother. It’s not really my type of music, but the students rip up a storm.’
‘You should come,’ Gemma said. ‘Especially if you’ve never been clubbing before.’
‘Yeah, I guess,’ James said, as he tried thinking up an excuse to get off campus. ‘Can I bring my girlfriend?’
‘Which one?’ Gemma asked cheekily.
James was startled by this. ‘Dana. I’ve only got one.’
‘What about Kerry?’ Gemma teased. ‘You said she’s your ex, but I can tell there’s still shit going on with you two.’
James shook his head as Danny burst out laughing. ‘Bring Kerry, Dana and anyone else you like. Maybe you’ll be able to get it on with the pair of them.’
After rapidly drinking a shot of tequila and a pint and a half of beer, James was starting to feel drunk and he laughed noisily. ‘I reckon I could live with that, Danny.’
Gemma shook her head and tutted. ‘In your dreams, James.’
Meanwhile, one of the other staff had placed the three burgers on the bar.
‘Another pint, James?’ Danny asked, as James got up to help him carry the food and cutlery to their table.
‘Why not?’ he slurred, realising that he’d be smashed by the time he got back to work.
Jake and Fahim’s class took things too far in the lesson after lunch and ended up with their head of year bursting into the art studio and giving them all detention. When the bell rang for the end of school, the twenty-eight Year Sevens had to walk around the corridors and playground picking up litter.
Jake and Fahim spent the two afternoon lessons sitting together and during detention they were assigned to clear the same section of corridor. When the head of year dismissed them, they headed off to catch their bus. Jake looked at a text message.
‘My sister Lauren’s waiting for me at the bus stop,’ he said, before pocketing his phone.
But Fahim had other concerns and glanced nervously in all directions as they stepped gingerly through an after-school kick-about on the concrete pitch.
‘They’ve probably gone,’ Jake said casually. ‘School finished hours ago.’
Fahim wasn’t so confident. ‘You should go,’ he said. ‘If Alom finds me he’ll batter me and if you’re with me his mates will get you.’
Jake slid his phone out and typed a quick text to Lauren. LEAVING NOW COULD BE TROUBLE.
‘Shit,’ Fahim said, as he spotted Alom and his Year-Nine cronies hanging out by some telephone boxes fifty metres from the school gate. He gave Jake a shove in the back. ‘Get away from me.’
But Jake shook his head. ‘We’re mates.’
‘Don’t be a tit,’ Fahim said, as the six Asian Year-Nine boys spotted him and chanted
as they started jogging towards him. ‘What difference are you gonna make against that lot?’
But there was no more time to argue. Alom grabbed Fahim by his collar and yanked him up so he was on tiptoes.
‘You’re coming for a walk,’ he said as he looked around. ‘Too many teachers around here.’
Two other lads pushed Jake away. ‘Piss off, white boy.’
Fahim sprawled out as the Skittle-stained bully punched him hard in the back.
‘Like it down there in the dirt, fats?’ Alom grinned, as he kicked Fahim in his chubby thigh. ‘Since you don’t like eating Skittles, I’m gonna take you to the park and find a nice juicy dog turd for your dinner.’
‘Leave him the hell alone,’ Jake shouted, as he hit one of the Year Nines in the guts with an explosive upward punch.
The Year Nine was a beefy dude twice Jake’s size, but he hadn’t been expecting it and he made an agonised groan as he hit the pavement.
Jake panicked as the other lad tried to get an arm around his neck. He was a third dan Karate black belt and expert in the most effective techniques from several other fighting disciplines; but no amount of skill can compensate for being little and he’d started a row with six guys who weighed twice as much as him.
‘You’re an idiot, Jake,’ Fahim said. ‘This is my problem.’
The most important thing when fighting much heavier opponents is to make sure they don’t pin you. Jake couldn’t afford to let anyone get close. He stepped backwards before launching a roundhouse kick, slamming his second opponent in the stomach.
As two Year Nines lay on the ground, Jake continued backing off as three more stepped over their bodies and rushed him. In the movies, the baddies always have the decency to wait in line and get beaten up one at a time, but that never happens in real life.
As Alom punched Fahim in the stomach, Jake faced off three well-built Asian youths. He looked backwards over his shoulder and realised that screaming his head off and legging it back inside the school was the safest option, but if he did that Fahim would be left at Alom’s mercy.
‘Come on then, wankers,’ Jake said, as he ducked into a fighting stance.
‘It’s the Karate kid,’ one of the Year Nines jeered.
But he stopped smiling as Jake lunged and punched him in the mouth. His jaw crunched, but Jake had made a fatal error by going for the boy in the middle. As the youth moaned in pain, the lads on either side got their arms around Jake.
He wriggled for all he was worth, but the lad he’d punched in the guts was back on his feet and Jake knew he was doomed when they got his ankles and scooped him off the ground. After a moment of indecision the three lads carried Jake kicking and swearing towards the kerb, where they bent him over a metal bollard and started landing heavy punches.
‘Leave my little brother alone,’ Lauren shouted breathlessly, as she ran across the street.
Being a girl worked to her advantage. She was the same age as the three lads pounding Jake, but the boys were bigger and they didn’t think she’d do anything except yell at them to stop. This was a serious mistake.
When kids learn Karate at the local community centre, they’re taught techniques that are playground friendly. Cherubs routinely go into dangerous situations and are taught to mercilessly target the weakest areas of the body.
Facing three opponents, Lauren wanted to take down two in one go. She moved expertly, swinging a palm in from either side, slamming two heads together. Both lads collapsed in a daze.
Jake was winded after taking more than a dozen hard punches, but his instincts had been honed by hundreds of hours’ combat training and he grabbed the bollard tightly before launching a two-footed back kick. His black Nikes hit the third boy so hard that he flew across the width of the pavement and into the breezeblock wall surrounding the school. Furious after the beating, Jake knocked him cold with a kick to the temple.
‘Feeling big now?’ he shouted, before breaking into a coughing fit.
Meanwhile, Lauren had gone after the last man standing. Alom still had hold of Fahim, but his brain couldn’t handle what his eyes were telling him.
‘Let Fahim go or I’ll break your neck,’ she ordered.
Alom looked at his mates: two in a daze after getting their heads knocked together, one on the ground holding a dislocated jaw, one slumped against the wall with a bloody nose and a split lip and one who’d run off rather than get knocked down again.
‘I don’t want no trouble,’ Alom said ridiculously, as he let Fahim go and smiled innocently at Lauren. But he turned around and legged it before she got close.
‘You OK, Fahim?’ Lauren asked.
Jake looked at the carnage as he hobbled towards Lauren, clutching his stomach. A few kids hanging around the school gate had witnessed the whole thing and he realised that there were going to be cops on the scene and an ambulance for at least one member of Alom’s crew.
He turned towards the gate and shouted: ‘We didn’t start this. Anyone snitches and they’re dead, you understand?’
Lauren wasn’t too impressed with what had occurred and she glowered at Jake as he came near. ‘Make a scene, why don’t you? We’d better get the hell out of here.’
Jake and Fahim were both hurting but Lauren grabbed their blazers and forced them to walk quickly. The first bus stop was only two minutes from the school, so they carried on walking towards the next one. This took them past a McDonalds, which was pretty empty at this time of the afternoon.