Read CHERUB: The Sleepwalker Online

Authors: Robert Muchamore

CHERUB: The Sleepwalker (30 page)

BOOK: CHERUB: The Sleepwalker
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The nurse looked uncertain. ‘You’re a black shirt, so I guess your opinion counts for something. I certainly couldn’t see it doing any harm.’

‘Right,’ Lauren said, as she picked her muddy trainers off the floor. ‘I’ll give it a go.’

‘Love the socks by the way,’ Nurse Beckett said, as she disappeared back into the examination room.


James and Kerry still faced their punishments for the unnecessarily violent assault on Danny. By Tuesday James had run his fifty laps and done six out of twenty hours’ decorating duty. Kerry’s punishment of three hundred laps and a hundred hours’ decorating was more daunting and would eat up all of her spare time for five or six weeks.

The junior block was a converted Victorian school that had been CHERUB’s headquarters until the main building was constructed in the early 1970s. James and Kerry had both been over the campus height obstacle enough times for the three-storey scaffold to present no problems.

All the building’s rotting sash windows had recently been replaced with double-glazed plastic units. These didn’t need painting, but knocking out and replacing the windows had left a mess inside and out. The bare plaster outside had to be sanded, sealed and painted, while the area around the windows on the inside needed new lining paper and fresh paint.

The new interior paint wouldn’t match older faded paint, so Zara had decided that it was the ideal opportunity to redecorate the entire building. Rather than the security risk of bringing decorators on to campus, the work was being done by cherubs on punishment duty under supervision of the three-man building maintenance team. Older kids like James and Kerry worked outside and did trickier indoor tasks like wallpapering. Younger miscreants were given emulsion paint and rollers to do the more straightforward painting indoors.

When lessons turned out in the afternoon, more than a dozen kids who were on punishment donned blue overalls and put in two or three hours before they washed up and went for a late dinner.

‘Missed a bit,’ James said to Kerry, as he walked along the scaffold two floors up. She sat on the edge of a wooden board, trainers dangling as she painted a window ledge.

‘Do I give a damn?’ Kerry growled. ‘Two months of this crap, just for busting up a head case … Why aren’t you working anyway? Every time I look you’re wandering up and down while everyone else is grafting.’

James pointed inside. ‘I did some papering, then one of the red shirts knocked her roller tray off the ladder. Fortunately it landed on a plastic sheet, but she got all upset and I had to help her clean up.’

‘The red shirts are a waste of space,’ Kerry tutted. ‘We spend more time cleaning up their messes than they do useful work.’

‘Must admit I kind of like it up here,’ James said, as he grabbed a metal pole above his head and swung from side to side. ‘Painting’s really mellow. It’s just you and the brush and at the end of the job you feel like you’ve achieved something.’

‘Hippy,’ Kerry tutted. ‘You only got twenty hours; you’re practically half done already.’

‘With my record, I’ll probably be back.’

‘Shakeel starts tomorrow,’ Kerry grinned. ‘He lost his temper and head-butted someone in the dojo after Miss Takada blew the whistle.’

‘Tea up,’ a woman shouted, from inside.

Kerry opened the window she was working on and checked that she didn’t have paint on the bottom of her Nikes before swinging on a pole and squeezing through on to the carpet inside. It was a typical red-shirt room, shared by a pair of young girls.

‘This is
pink,’ James said, shielding his eyes in mock disgust as he stepped around ballet tights, a dolls’ house and Barbie’s Volkswagen convertible.

They stepped out into the hallway as the tea lady – who was really one of the junior-block carers – came through with a metal trolley laid out with mugs of tea and individual Twix bars.

‘Cheers, Chloe,’ James grinned as he heaped sugar into his mug. ‘You’re looking beautiful today.’

The carer furrowed her brow. ‘Why is it if you stick a man in a set of overalls he immediately thinks he’s god’s gift to women?’

‘Beats me,’ Kerry smiled. ‘Although in James’ case you don’t actually need the overalls for him to think that.’

As Chloe moved down the corridor to serve tea to the rest of the decorators, James and Kerry went back into the pink paradise to eat their Twixes and warm cold hands on their mugs. They both had painty hands and filthy overalls, so they couldn’t sit down.

‘I hear Bruce is on his way home,’ James said.

Kerry bit the end off her Twix and nodded. ‘He touches down at Heathrow early tomorrow.’

‘You don’t exactly sound overjoyed.’

‘I dunno,’ Kerry shrugged. ‘He’s a nice guy, but …’

‘But what?’

‘No sparkle,’ Kerry said.

‘How do you mean?’

‘With you and me it was exciting. I mean, you treated me like crap, you cheated on me every chance you got, you dumped me and completely broke my heart, but if someone said you’ve won a free meal at a nice restaurant and you can go with anyone you like no strings attached, I’d still pick you over Bruce.’

James was flattered and ran the calculation for himself. ‘Maybe I’d pick you over Dana,’ he grinned.

Before James knew it, Kerry had placed her mug in the turret of a fairy castle and their overalls were almost touching. They started kissing and James could taste chocolate and biscuit crumbs all around Kerry’s mouth, which was gross and sexy at the same time.

The shape of Kerry’s face and taste of her spit were like visiting an old friend, and before he knew it James had unzipped Kerry’s overalls and got his hand around her boob. She grabbed his bum as he shoved her up against the wall.

‘God you’re sexy,’ Kerry moaned.

James was turned on like crazy, but Dana’s face kept popping into his head.

‘Shit,’ James said, as he pulled away, crushing a toy pony under his boot as he stepped back. ‘This is insane.’

Kerry looked at James longingly. ‘It’s still there, James. I pretended that I hated your guts, but I could never manage it.’

‘I don’t know,’ James said, running his hand through his hair and realising that this gesture is a bad idea when you’ve got paint all over your fingers. ‘This is screwed up.’

‘I’ve seen the way you look at me, James. I
you still fancy me and I’m more mature now. If you wanted to go all the way, like you do with Dana …’

‘Everyone thinks we’re at it, but we’re not,’ James protested. ‘I didn’t break up with you because you didn’t put out. We’re just too different and what I have with Dana is really special.’

Kerry realised she’d made herself sound cheap and turned bitter. ‘So what just happened? Was that nothing?’

‘Kerry, I’ll always fancy you,’ James squirmed. ‘But our relationship was the romantic equivalent of fitting the Titanic with jet engines and steering it towards Hurricane Katrina.’

‘We had rows,’ Kerry nodded, ‘but there was a lot of great stuff too. Maybe some of the best times of my whole life.’

‘For me too,’ James sighed. ‘Remember the heatwave when we sneaked out of bed and swam in the lake?’

Kerry smiled. ‘The KMG mission, when we had our first proper snog.’

Memory lane felt like a trap and James didn’t want to fall in. ‘Those days are gone,’ he said firmly. ‘When we started chatting on the bus to work two weeks back I kept thinking about you. But we’ve broken up twice, and to be honest I don’t want to go through all that stress again. Just because two people fancy each other, it doesn’t mean that they make a good couple. And I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings when we broke up, but it really works between me and Dana.’

‘Shit!’ Kerry screamed, lashing out at a turret and sending a tide of Playmobil men and plastic fairies over the castle walls. ‘Why’s it got to be like this?’

James choked as he saw the tears welling in Kerry’s eyes. ‘You said it yourself: I treated you like shit. One day you’re gonna find the bloke you deserve and I hope I’m there to see it as one of your best friends.’

‘I tried so hard to hate you when you dumped me,’ Kerry sniffed. ‘But I never hated you inside. I guess you
better off with Dana. I’m a complete basket case.’

‘No you’re not,’ James soothed, feeling sorry for Kerry but also getting a rush out of the fact she still wanted him. ‘You’re the sanest person I know. But it’s hormones and stuff, you know? Once the chemicals kick in, our brains turn to mush.’

‘Gemma called me earlier,’ Kerry said, changing the subject as she took a tissue from a box beside one of the little girls’ beds. She dabbed her eyes, but was careful because of the paint on her fingers.

‘Is she doing OK?’

‘Not bad,’ Kerry said, smiling doubtfully. ‘Danny’s out of hospital. Gemma’s looking after him, but apparently he’s been laying down the law and making snide remarks about what he’s gonna do when he gets better. And she’s still ticked off about the way Danny used her as bait.’

‘You think she might be considering giving him the elbow?’ James asked hopefully.

‘Fingers crossed,’ Kerry nodded. ‘Gemma wants us to go out for a beer on Friday; you, me and Dana. I told her that Bruce was due back, so I guess he’ll come too.’

James twisted his boot against the carpet pile. ‘Are you gonna dump Bruce? Because he doesn’t have much experience with girls, so go easy on him.’

‘I’ll see how it goes,’ Kerry shrugged. ‘I’ve not even seen the guy for two months.’

‘I always thought you two had fun together.’

‘Sometimes …’ Kerry smiled. ‘Quite a lot of times actually.’

James jumped as a girl rapped on the window. ‘OK lovebirds, tea break’s over, get your arses out here.’

The girl had no authority and James flicked her off, but they were also being supervised by one of the campus maintenance workers and their time wouldn’t be counted against their punishment if they took more than a ten-minute break.

‘They want me to put some filler in a crack over the other side,’ James said, as he swung out on to the scaffolding.

‘James,’ Kerry called after him.

He peered back through the window. ‘What?’

‘I didn’t freak you out, did I? We can still stay friends and apart from the whole poaching-her-man thing, I’m getting on really well with Dana these days.’

‘Of course we’re friends,’ James smiled. ‘Nothing should ever get in the way of that.’

It was only as he walked along the scaffold, ducking around the aluminium poles with the warped planks rattling underfoot, that his conversation with Kerry really sank in: she’d offered him her body and he’d turned it down because he loved Dana. He was so shocked at himself that he walked into an open can of paint.

The tin toppled off the edge of the scaffold and rotated as it fell, streaking the brickwork and a grey shirt who was working directly below before hitting the ground with a metallic clank.

‘Watch where you’re going, Adams,’ the kid shouted, as he reached up and banged furiously on the wooden boards above his head. ‘Have you got shit in your eyes, or what?’


Lauren didn’t sleep too well and woke up at six on Wednesday morning. She turned on her laptop to check on a movie she’d set to download overnight and saw there was an e-mail from Mac in her inbox.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected], [email protected]

Subject: FAA preliminary finding (do not discuss openly at this stage!)

Hi both,

I’ve been on the phone with Geoff Glisch from the Federal Aviation Administration and I thought you’d be interested to hear that on Friday, they’re planning to announce a preliminary finding on what caused the Anglo-Irish jet to crash.

Having been unable to find any traces of explosives in the wreckage recovered from the Atlantic, Geoff said that the investigation team already felt that a bomb was an increasingly unlikely cause for the crash.

Our discovery of the uncertified parts led the team to concentrate their investigation upon components that were replaced during the overhaul at the DNM maintenance hangar in Madras.

Their preliminary finding is that some of the tubing in the fuel system was not replaced according to the maintenance schedule. At the same time, four valves within the fuel system were improperly replaced with elderly components that have now been traced back to an aircraft burned deliberately in a fire-fighting exercise at Gatwick Airport in mid-2005.

Not only were the components from this burned-out aircraft old, they had been exposed to extreme heat and this is believed to have made the plastics brittle. When a section of the badly maintained tubing ruptured, valves which should have shut down the leak failed to operate and fuel began leaking into the cargo hold. This fuel then ran into electrical systems within the aircraft. These systems short-circuited and the resulting sparks caused an explosion.

This led to the first bang heard by passengers aboard the aircraft. It also damaged the control flaps in the right wing, causing the aircraft to roll. The pilots were able to stabilise the plane and automatic fire control systems extinguished the blaze. However, the part of the aircraft between the wing and fuselage – known as the wing box – was torn open by the explosion and the force of air entering the hole at more than 600kph eventually caused the wing to separate completely. Once this happened, the pilots had no option but to ditch into the sea.

The crash investigation team are confident that this will be their final conclusion, but they won’t make the announcement until a team of engineers from the aircraft manufacturer have concurred with their findings. Until the announcement is made, please keep this under your hats.

Speak soon,

Dr McAfferty

Lauren smiled half-heartedly. She was glad that her mission had helped solve the mystery, but the businesslike tone of Mac’s e-mail belied the fact that he’d lost four members of his family. She knew he was hurting more than he let on.

After taking a shower and making sure that she had all the right books and equipment for morning lessons, Lauren headed downstairs to the reception area on the ground floor. She knew Zara started work early on mornings when her husband got the kids ready for nursery, and wanted to catch up with the chairwoman before she got snowed under with meetings and phone calls.

BOOK: CHERUB: The Sleepwalker
9.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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