Authors: Stephen Cole
Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Literature & Fiction
To Linda Chapman, for sharing all the madness
They came like shadows out of the warm, wet night. Three of them in black, moving swiftly and quietly through the long grass beside the winding dirt track. Their destination loomed up ahead of them: a sprawling complex of stained concrete, serene in the moon's silver light.
Jonah Wish stared at it with foreboding, rubbing the stitch in his side while his friends pushed on ahead. It was late Saturday night and what was he doing â partying hard? Clubbing all night? Getting trashed with his mates?
No. He was breaking into a nuclear power station in the wilds of Guatemala.
He pushed his damp blond hair up from his forehead.
Same old, same old
However weird it might seem, this was his life now. A few months ago he'd been stuck in a Young Offenders Institution: a loser with no friends and family, better with codes and computers than with people. It was cyber-fraud that had got him locked up in the first place â but it had also brought him to the attention of a powerful and most unusual man â¦
âGreat place to stop, geek!' Motti's angry hiss cut
through the muggy night from behind a dense tropical thicket. âYou're in plain view! Get your ass over here before I kick it clear over the perimeter fence.'
âS'pose that's one sure way of getting inside,' Jonah muttered as he ran to catch up.
Motti was a tall, rangy American guy, all glower and goatee, with black hair tied back in a ponytail. âAbout time.' He squinted at some high-tech gadget through his round-rimmed glasses. âThought you'd stopped to take a leak or something.'
âNope. I'm keeping a full bladder so I can wet myself properly when we tackle the main security systems.'
Motti cracked the tiniest smile. âThat I can believe.'
âOi, stop picking on Jonah,' came a rough, south London accent from deeper in the thicket.
âHe's eighteen, Patch. He don't need no scrawny kid cyclops sticking up for him.'
âHe don't need some gangly bearded tit on his backside either.' Patch's thin, freckled face pushed out from the fleshy leaves. In the moonlight, the square of leather over his missing left eye looked creepily like a gaping socket. âActually, I s'pose no one needs a tit on their backside. How would you ever sit down?'
âCarefully,' Motti suggested, still scrutinising his gadget. They all sniggered, but then a red light started flashing. âOK, we got a signal. Power supply for the electric fence is thirty metres north.'
Patch was suddenly dead serious too; like Motti, he knew when it was time to stop clowning. âReckon you can bust it?'
â'Course I can bust it,' said Motti, calibrating
something on his box of tricks. âAnd those dummies in security control will have no idea. Provided Tye and Con stay on the ball.'
âI hope they're OK,' muttered Jonah.
They waited edgily in silence â although âsilence' was hardly the word. The cicadas all around them sounded like some freaky giant generator. Night sounds carried eerily from the dark and distant rainforest, the howls and screeches of creatures unknown. But Jonah thought the loudest thing had to be the thrum of his racing heart.
He bit his lip and tried to think of all the perks of his new lifestyle â the travel, the money, the freedom, the feeling of belonging somewhere after all these years. But right now he could only see the downside. OK, so they only ripped off people who
ripping off â shady, super-rich types who stood to lose a whole lot more by going to the cops. But in the long, nerve-twisting build-up to a job, with the iron taste of fear in the back of his throat, Jonah couldn't help thinking:
Someone get me out of here. I'm not cut out to be a thief
Especially not the creepy, freaky brand of thievery the boss man specialised in.
âYou know,' Patch breathed, âI think I'd feel a whole lot happier if this place really
just a nuclear power station.'
âMe too,' said Jonah. âWhich is saying something.'
âOK, keep it down, we're ready to go,' said Motti. âAnd remember, we got a job to do. If we mess up â¦'
He mimed a knife moving slowly across his throat. Then he moved off quietly into the undergrowth.
Patch rubbed nervously at the leather over his eye, and scrambled after him.
âRoll on Sunday morning,' Jonah muttered, following close behind.
Another day, another job
, Tye told herself. Only this one was a little too close to home for her liking. She was born and raised in Haiti, and from the age of eleven had spent five years smuggling contraband all across the Caribbean and South America. She'd almost got herself killed in Guatemala a couple of times, crossing the border to Honduras. Making it three times unlucky was not high on her âto do' list.
Yet here she was, crouching close to the main gates of the apparently deserted complex. Beside her stood a rusted sign advertising clean, cheap nuclear energy for all.
But Tye knew what the place was
for. And just how dangerous this heist would be. The sweat soaking her back wasn't only down to the humid night.
She looked at Con, her companion and colleague, wishing she could share her fears with a friend. But Con didn't do friendship â
were more her thing. Platinum blonde and striking, the only thing she allowed close to her was money.
Con raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow. âEverything is all right?' Her voice held a trace of European accent, and was like a cool breath in the heat.
âI'm fine.' Tye straightened, smoothed out the clinging pink top Con assured her looked great against her
dark skin. âYou really think this will work?'
âThe men guarding this place are lonely and bored.' Con undid the top few buttons of her lacy blouse. âThey will not turn down the chance of some female company while the boss is away.'
âYou're sure of that?'
Con smiled, hitching up her short black skirt a fraction. âWe'll have them eating out of our hands, yes?'
Tye nodded unhappily. âThey'll be eating out of my fist if they try to lay a finger on me.'
âIt will be OK.' Con strutted up to the main gates. âWe must give our boys their distraction.'
Distracting boys comes easy to you
, Tye thought.
When you're around I just fade into the background
And that had never once bothered her, until Jonah Wish had showed up in her life.
It wasn't so much his looks, though they were just fine â scruffy blond hair, serious eyes, a smile that suggested he knew stuff he wasn't meant to tell. It was more about the person he was. Tye had a gift for reading people â it had helped her stay alive in her smuggling days, and she'd known from the first time they'd met that if she was ever to really open up to someone, it would be Jonah.
,' Con urged her. âIt's time.' She jabbed a buzzer on the entryphone beside the gates and looked up nonchalantly into the security camera.
Tye took a deep breath and crossed to join her.
A squawk of static and Spanish erupted from the entryphone. The man's voice sounded gruff and threatening, but Con gabbled back at him, all smiles.
She was fluent in eight languages and could get by in eleven more. It was just a shame you could barely believe a word she said in any of them.
Tye spoke enough Spanish to understand the gist of the conversation. As rehearsed, Con was explaining they were backpackers fooled into coming out here by a couple of
with more on their minds than a moonlit walk. They had run for it â but now didn't have a clue where they were. Could anyone in there help?
The voice told Con to wait.
Tye looked up at the camera and tried to do âpleading'.
The entryphone squawked back into life a minute later. A different man's voice gave instructions to wait by the gate until someone came to fetch them.
âThey want us,' Con murmured through her grateful camera-smile.
Tye allowed her eyelids a token flutter. Already she could hear the distant roar of an engine approaching. Yellow headlights rushed to meet them from the shadowy buildings of the main complex. The gates rattled as some invisible bolt was released, and they started to swing inwards.
âGet going, Motti,' Tye breathed.
Then floodlights snapped on. Tye shielded her eyes as three black men in a battered open-top jeep pulled up beside them. Automatic weapons were slung carelessly from their shoulders. They looked over at Tye and Con, sweaty and severe.
Then the driver slowly smiled, showing teeth as rotten as he smelled. âGet in,' he told Con, patting the
seat beside him. Which left Tye the tiny space between his pet thugs in the back. She clambered in. They stank of BO and garlic, and made no effort to help her or to move out of the way. They must really believe they were dealing with a couple of helpless girls they could intimidate.
Tye squeezed in between them and allowed herself the tiniest of smiles.
You have no idea
, she thought.
Motti heard the low electric hum carry through the drowsy night.
âMain gate's opening,' Jonah hissed beside him.
âI ain't deaf,' Motti growled.
Ain't blind, neither
, he thought as floodlights flicked on, sending long shadows streaking from the sprawl of buildings towards the electrified perimeter fence â a standard twenty-one-wire job on three-metre posts. Luckily, this far round from the entrance, the floodlights stopped short of him and the guys as they crouched down in their muddy trench. They had dug down to expose the power spur feeding the complex's systems without tripping an alarm. Given the crappy state of repair of the place â weeds and shit all up the fence, kinks in the wire and worse â Motti wasn't really surprised. But he was sure as hell relieved.
So far so good.
Patch trained a torch on the spaghetti-wiring inside the spur, while Jonah heaved a heavy-duty black box crammed with capacitors into position beside it. Expertly Motti hooked up jump-leads from his homemade device to the right terminals.
âOK. As of now, all the charge in this part of the
fence is being absorbed by the Motti-box. That's 10,000 volts.'
âGlad it's running into there and not into us,' said Patch.
âIt will do if you don't get over that fence in sixty seconds,' Motti told him, crossing to the fence and starting to climb. âThat's about how long we got before the box fills to capacity and the current flows back to the fence circuit.'
Jonah and Patch hurled themselves at the chain-link and clambered up after him. âYou
the guards won't notice the power's been bled from this section?' said Jonah as he climbed. âYou said yourself there were anti-tamper devices â'
âComputers and ciphers are your shit, security's mine, OK?' Motti swung himself over the top, counting in his head.
Thirty-five seconds left
. âPoint one, all fence control comes from the monitoring station â the guard house, right? From there they can activate or isolate the entire fence or any individual sector.'